Despite the many fiscal and operational challenges facing them, America's hospitals view improving quality and patient safety as top priorities. This is an issue of public trust, keeping the promise that is inherent in every hospital's existence: to provide the most compassionate, effective care possible, every day of the year.
As chairman of the American Hospital Association's Quality and Patient Safety Task Force, I am part of a major effort to find ways to help our member hospitals advance and strengthen the many things they already are doing to improve the quality of care. One of the task force's first charges was to work with AHA staff to develop a set of principles for the increasingly complicated business of measuring quality. These principles are designed to be a yardstick to help hospitals evaluate the tools they employ for quality measurement and the many proposals being put forward by other organizations. The task force has also crafted a framework for how quality in hospitals should be assessed and improved.
Complementing these efforts is the Challenge of Assessing Patient Safety in America's Hospitals, a study commissioned by the AHA, the Healthcare Leadership Council and the Federation of American Hospitals. It offers specific criteria for evaluating patient-safety practices and outlines the important factors that must be accounted for before a practice may be considered a care standard. These efforts build on work by the National Quality Forum-of which the AHA is an active member-research projects at the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, and initiatives under way at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and the Institute of Medicine, all of which are working on many of these same issues.
The task force's work is the latest in a long line of AHA quality and safety initiatives. Initially, the target was medication safety-reducing and preventing medication errors that are the results of different drugs packaged in similar containers, confusing label and prescription abbreviations, illegible doctor handwriting and more. We partnered with the Institute for Safe Medication Practices, the foremost authority on medication safety practices in hospitals and health systems. Our objective has been to take what we already know about the sources of medication errors and how to prevent them and put that knowledge to work more widely. To that end we put the ISMP Medication Safety Self-Assessment in the hands of hospital pharmacy directors. This comprehensive tool helps hospitals assess the safety of their medication practices, identify opportunities for improvement and compare their experience with that of similar hospitals.
Recently, the AHA broadened its focus to help hospitals foster a culture of safety. The idea is to create an environment in which we can learn from our mistakes-a safe, nonpunitive environment that supports candid discussion of errors and ways to prevent them. To help hospitals create this culture, the AHA provided two assessment tools-one geared toward hospital chief executive officers and how they can do the job and another that identifies the organizational framework hospitals need to measure critical safety functions.
And to highlight those hospitals that are leading the way to innovation in patient-care quality, safety and commitment, the AHA, with support from the McKesson Corp. and the McKesson Foundation, created the American Hospital Quest for Quality Prize. This new award not only will honor achievement in patient safety and quality but also will raise awareness of the need for commitment at every level.
Patient safety and quality improvement are at the heart of the public's trust and confidence in its hospitals. That's why we are sending most of the tools and information on quality to all hospitals, not just to AHA members.
The quest for improvement perseveres, regardless of how pressing the burdens of other issues may become.
Thomas Royer, M.D., is president and chief executive officer of Christus Health, Irving Texas, and an AHA trustee