The Internet has been a contributing force to the effectiveness of the patient-safety movement, advocates say.
Web helps strengthen patient-safety movement
In the past decade, there has been a grass-roots swelling of patients and families demanding a stronger role in healthcare reform and quality improvements. That is not a coincidence: 10 years ago, the Institute of Medicine released its landmark To Err is Human report and, hospitals suddenly found a spotlight shining on their practices. Although medical errors were happening before 1999, there was a lot more awareness of them after the report, said Helen Haskell, who became a safety advocate as a result of medical complications that led to her son's death.
Haskell, along with advocates Dale Ann Micalizzi, Susan Sheridan and many others, have taken their efforts to the Internet to connect with families who have endured similar experiences in hospitals and who want to try to change the system. In the beginning, everyone was fragmented, Haskell said. But now “we're all in touch, we all know each other.”
Social-networking sites and Web pages have allowed safety advocates to establish connections that otherwise would be difficult to create, she said.
In addition, safety advocates have developed Web sites for their causes. The group that Sheridan co-founded, Parents of Infants and Children with Kernicterus, has a button on its Web site that allows people to file complaints directly with the Joint Commission. Micalizzi's Facebook page contains links to several resources, including to other groups with Facebook pages, external blogs and organizations.
Patient-safety advocates are a fundamental part of system improvement, said Mark Novotny, a physician who is interim CEO of 99-bed Southwestern Vermont Medical Center, Bennington, which asked for Micalizzi's help after hearing her speak at an Institute for Healthcare Improvement forum. “A lot of healthcare is designed around those of us providing the care,” he said. “How can you possibly understand what patients want if they're not in the room?”
Medical errors and patient harm have led to providers and families taking sides in battles, when advocates say what the process needs is an injection of compassion and communication. Because, ultimately, the goal for both providers and patients is the same: successful outcomes and healthy people.
In a way, the healthcare system itself has created these advocates. And yet, without their influence, changes might not happen, said Paul Schyve, a physician and senior vice president at the Joint Commission. Increasingly, the advocates' perspectives on how errors are managed are being listened to, Schyve said. Providers are realizing that patients and their families have a role in their care, and their stories are being told to help inspire improvements. There is “clearly a much better appreciation” for that role, he said. But “that appreciation is not universal,” he said.
A version of this story initially appeared in this week's edition of Modern Healthcare magazine.
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