Patient safety remains top priority

Published 10:41 am Friday, March 18, 2011

At St. Luke’s Hospital, we’re celebrating National Patient Safety Awareness Week, a few days to bring attention to a major focus in our hospital every day –– keeping our patients safe at all times. With every patient encounter and every procedure, patient safety remains our focus — always has been and always will be.

In recognition of National Patient Safety Awareness Week, I’d like to assure you every one of us at St. Luke’s Hospital will continue to the journey towards patient safety and meeting the goals set for all hospitals by The Joint Commission. National Patient Safety Goals represent ongoing opportunities for improvement that can immediately benefit patients.

The Joint Commission (TJC) is the agency that inspects hospitals and other providers to insure we are meeting stringent requirements to provide high quality healthcare. TJC has determined goals that hospitals nationwide must achieve.

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They are: improve the accuracy of patient identification; improve the effectiveness of communication among caregivers; Improve the safety of using medications; reduce the risk of healthcare associated infections; accurately and completely reconcile medications across the continuum of care; identify patient safety risks; encourage patient’s active involvement in their own care; and meet expectations of the Universal Protocol.

So, what have we at St. Luke’s implemented to meet these goals and provide a safe environment for our patients?

For starters, we snap a picture of each patient who is admitted to St. Luke’s, as well as those who are here for outpatient surgery. The photo is added to the patient’s permanent record and used as an extra precaution to improve the accuracy of patient identification.

Our staff will always check your armband, and now they have a visual record as well. This is especially helpful in checking the identity of a patient who is confused or groggy from sedation. Perhaps a patient leaves the hospital against medical advice, or one with Alzheimer’s may leave the hospital, lost and confused. We now have a real way to ID the missing patient. That’s hypothetical but possible. It has happened in other places, so we need to be prepared.

Throughout any outpatient visit or hospitalization, we’ll double-check your identity by asking your name, date of birth and using your armband. As a matter of fact, you may think it’s too much, but for patient safety, we cannot do enough.

Take surgery, for instance. St. Luke’s and hospitals across the country are taking a “time out” just before surgery to make absolutely certain we have the right patient in the operating room for the right procedure at the right site.

“Time Out” means extra precautions to patients, even if it seems a little bothersome. In accordance with protocols, St. Luke’s staff will confirm with our patients several times their names, date of birth, their procedure and the correct site for surgery.

Patients may wonder, “How many times are you going to ask me that?” Just know it’s for safety purposes. And we’ll mark the surgical site, using permanent marker that is visible after the skin is draped and prepped. Again, this is for your safety. These are national standards known as “Universal Protocol for Preventing Wrong Site, Wrong Procedure and Wrong Person Surgery.”

For some time now, our patients have benefited from special hospital beds equipped with alarms that alert staff and prevent patient falls. Another step to meet patient safety goals is the computerized system of managing medications and preventing drug interactions and allergies. Omnicell is an automated cabinet that securely stores and rapidly dispenses medication on patient care units.

The Omnicell has reduced medication errors and increased the efficiency of the clinical staff. It tracks controlled substances and alerts staff of discrepancies, allergies and drug interactions. In the hospital industry, medication errors are, by far, the most common mistakes although usually without consequence.

These are just a few of the systems we have in place at St. Luke’s Hospital for our patients’ safety. In a future column, I’ll be glad to share more patient safety protocols St. Luke’s physicians and staff follow to ensure you receive exceptional care, close to home.

St. Luke’s Hospital is a not for profit, acute care hospital affiliated with Carolinas HealthCare System of Charlotte, NC, for specialized management expertise, experience with developing strong community-based clinical services, and participation in revenue and purchasing contracts.

CHS is the largest healthcare system in the Carolinas and the third largest public system in the nation. St. Luke’s Hospital is committed to providing Exceptional Care, Close to Home.