Examing Issues Affecting Quality and Safety in Healthcare

It seems like you can’t turn on the news or have a conversation with a friend without encountering a complaint about quality and safety in healthcare. Whether it’s medical errors, long waits to see a specialist or high costs, everyone seems to have a complaint but few seem to have a solution.

According to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, (AHRQ) a division of the United States Department of Health & Human Services, both underuse and overuse of medical services create quality problems. It also identified the lack of equal care for patients in small towns and variations in quality as current problems.

Overuse of Medical Services

AHRQ states that millions of Americans receive medical services each year that they don’t really need. This sometimes occurs due to their own insistence, but it’s more common for doctors to order unnecessary tests or perform unnecessary operations. In a study it conducted, the AHRQ found that one woman in six who received a hysterectomy didn’t really need it. Not only does this increase healthcare costs, it can endanger patients’ lives.

Underuse of Medical Services

On the other end of the spectrum are patients who suffer needlessly and die prematurely because they don’t get the medical care they need. This often requires more aggressive and expensive health interventions in the future. When the AHRQ conducted a large study of Medicare patients who had suffered a heart attack, it discovered that only 21 percent of people who could benefit from beta blockers received them. Addressing patient needs more accurately saves considerable money and helps them to remain productive.

Differences in Patient Care

People in large cities or suburbs have access to higher quality medical care than those living in small towns or rural communities. This lack of equal access continues to exist despite the shift to evidence-based practice. Even more troubling is the fact that members of racial minority groups received high-quality, lifesaving care far less often than Caucasian patients.

To prove its theory, the AHRQ conducted a study of heart attack patients at the University of Alabama. It discovered an underuse problem regarding the use of beta blockers for all populations. However, African Americans who had suffered a heart attack received the evidence-based, life-saving drug much less often than patients of other races.

Patients Injured During Treatment

Too many patients suffer negative effects from treatment intended to help them. This is yet another problem with the quality and safety of healthcare. The Center for Patient Safety reports some sobering statistics:

  • 98,000 patients die every year due to all types of medical errors
  • 770,000 people annually experience an unintended drug reaction leading to serious injury or death and an annual cost of 5.6 billion dollars
  • 1.7 million people pick up an infection in a healthcare environment every year and 99,000 die because of it
  • All medical errors combined cost an average of 20 billion dollars per year in additional healthcare costs
  • While quality of patient care is slowly improving, the same cannot be said for advances in safety

Although everyone makes mistakes, an error in a medical setting has far-reaching and possibly deadly consequences. Every organization can improve, even those with nearly perfect patient safety records. It’s the only way to gain patient trust.

When You’re Ready to Improve Outcomes for Your Healthcare Organization

It’s hard to improve when you don’t understand the best and worst competencies of your clinic, hospital, or other healthcare facilities. Health Catalyst offers a free assessment to show you specific ways to improve. Once you have had the chance to review it, feel free to contact us to learn more our individual services.