Wyo. hospital stays in 'red zone' of safety

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CASPER, Wyo. (AP) — A safety program launched three years ago at Wyoming Medical Center has led to a 70 percent drop in errors that cause serious harm to patients, officials at the Casper hospital said Friday.

The effort, partly inspired by CEO Vickie Diamond's visit to NASA's Kennedy Space Center, led to several changes at the hospital, including daily safety briefings and badges that help nurses avoid distractions while handling medications.

The program has lowered malpractice insurance costs, and probably reduced the number of lawsuits, said Risk Manager Shawna Willcox. The hospital has currently gone six months without a serious incident.

"The people at the bedsides see that," she said. "Physicians see that. Everybody sees that we are safer than we were three years ago."

Willcox and other hospital officials described their experience during the Wyoming Patient Safety Summit in Casper, a first-time event organized by the Wyoming Medical Society and the Wyoming Hospital Association.

WMC began its safety program in the fall of 2009. Diamond visited the Kennedy Space Center and learned how the agency changed its safety culture after the Columbia space shuttle disaster.

Before the safety program, hospital officials would examine errors as individual incidents. That kept them from getting a complete picture of their safety performance.

With a consultant's help, administrators studied two years' worth of reports and data. They showed WMC was merely average when it came to patient safety.

"We kind of had that 'ah ha' moment when we pulled all the data together and we said . 'we're a hospital that needs a safety culture,'" Willcox said.

Instilling that culture took time. The hospital held focus groups among the staff to find areas where it could improve. It began daily safety briefings and a hotline where doctors could report concerns.

Officials approached family members of a patient who was harmed by a hospital error about sharing their story as a training tool, Willcox said. After some talk, the family agreed.

Another change targeted medication errors. The hospital began using red badges to signify that a nurse is administering medication and shouldn't be interrupted.

WMC tried to create a system in which providers would feel comfortable sharing concerns with someone in a higher position of authority. Staff developed a common language for raising questions without feeling threatened.

"Now, when someone says, 'I have a concern,' people stop to listen," Willcox said.

Three years into the effort, hospital officials believe they've gotten a good return on their investment, Diamond said.

"It is worth every penny that we have spent to get our staff and our culture . aligned on safety," she said. "They are all looking at how we take better care or our patients."

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Information from: Casper (Wyo.) Star-Tribune, http://www.trib.com

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