Quality Quarterly

Safer Care Requires Timely Data  

Patient safety in health care involves many interacting factors. Some solutions for patient safety that initially appear straightforward may not achieve the desired outcomes. For instance, using soft mats to prevent falls in hospitals can inadvertently increase fall rates by creating tripping hazards, and the material used may harbor bacteria that lead to infections.  

Addressing safety issues goes beyond technical solutions; it requires an understanding of organizational dynamics and professional relationships. Effective patient safety strategies must be grounded in a thorough understanding of the problems. This type of understanding is only possible through timely collection and analysis of data.  

Delays in reporting by environmental services on cleaning and sterilization issues increase the risk of infection for patients. Similarly, if imaging technicians delay reporting on instrument availability or equipment malfunctions, patients may experience delayed diagnoses or prolonged procedures, raising the risk of complications. When doctors and nurses fail to promptly address concerns or uncomfortable working conditions, it can result in preventable harm to patients. 

Despite recognizing the consequences of delayed reporting, hospitals often struggle to report data to their patient safety organizations (PSOs). The 2005 Patient Safety Act offers hospitals the opportunity to prevent harm through timely reporting. This includes expanding their patient safety efforts beyond individual facilities to a broader perspective. By benchmarking and collaborating with other health care organizations, hospitals can jointly identify and mitigate risks, such as those associated with medications, technology, clinical practice, and procedures. This collaborative approach aims to break down competitive barriers and foster cooperation toward the shared goal of delivering safer care. However, achieving this collaborative effort is only possible through access to quality data. 

By sharing information on patient safety events, trends, and solutions, hospitals can adopt best practices and implement effective strategies. Networking with peers allows hospital leaders to exchange ideas and realize they share common challenges and goals. 

While it is understandable that hospitals struggle to reliably report due to leadership and staff turnover and related retention issues, numerous reporting obligations, and competing priorities, hospitals also recognize that safety is paramount and must overcome these obstacles in the best interest of their patients. 

Patient safety is notoriously complex. However, hospitals that prioritize timely reporting of patient safety data to their PSO are benefitting from a larger data set and objective performance measurement.  

By embracing timely reporting as a fundamental practice, hospitals can transform into proactive institutions that prioritize harm prevention over harm response. This shift not only improves the quality and safety of patient care but also fosters a learning system, a culture of continuous improvement, and excellence in health care.