Actions speak louder than words, and there's never been a more appropriate time for healthcare providers to take action.
The medical errors furor, touched off by the Institute of Medicine's infamous findings, has galvanized the healthcare industry, as well as its critics and watchdogs. How providers respond over the next few months could well determine the way healthcare organizations operate for decades to come.
While Congress ponders the need for the National Center for Patient Safety to track medical errors, hospitals and health systems are searching for ways to respond. Trade associations have formed task forces, and researchers are flush with new grant money for medical-outcomes studies.
But it will take more than strategic plans, research projects and consultant reports to solve what has become a crisis in credibility. For in many ways, the most serious backlash from the IOM's "To Err is Human" report is the public's eroding confidence in healthcare providers.
Let's face it. Your reputation is at great risk when patients are as concerned about infection rates, adverse drug reactions, sloppy communication and shoddy medical treatment as they are about their own health and wellness.
The American Hospital Association has drawn up a serviceable strategy and promises to develop an accountability checklist for members. But the real effort must come from hospital management teams that are fully committed to improving quality and reducing medical errors.
Leadership must come from the top. First, chief executive officers, chief operating officers and clinical managers must agree on how to assess and respond to medical errors. In addition, CEOs, chiefs of medical staffs and directors of nursing should be prepared to discuss their findings with employees, the media and community groups.
And get your priorities straight. The ultimate goal in this crucial quality- improvement campaign is not to sidestep onerous government regulation. Let the AHA and other lobbyists fight that battle. The real motivation for providers is to rebuild patient confidence and trust.