To improve nation's patient safety agenda with renewed energy and focus, the Institute for Healthcare Improvement (IHI) hosts representatives from 24 organizations to begin work on a national strategy for reducing harm in the delivery of healthcare.

The National Steering Committee for Patient Safety, with members from the healthcare, policy, regulatory, and advocacy communities, is charged with creating a National Action Plan to serve as a roadmap to accelerate progress.

Co-chaired by Tejal K. Gandhi, MD, Chief Clinical and Safety Officer, IHI, and Jeffrey Brady, MD, Director, Center for Quality Improvement and Patient Safety at the US Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, the committee meets in Boston ahead of the 20th Annual IHI/NPSF Patient Safety Congress, which gets underway tomorrow at the Hynes Convention Center.

This new effort stems from a 2017 Call to Action issued by the National Patient Safety Foundation (NPSF), which merged with IHI last year to combine the strengths of the two organizations around patient safety. The Call to Action frames medical harm as an issue that affects all of society, demanding a coordinated response by the health care and public health sectors.

Improved agenda for patient safety

"For decades, experts have called for increased coordination to improve patient safety, but such a strategy has not been fully instituted," Gandhi said. "There is still so much work to be done in patient safety, in part because we've reached the limits of what a project-by-project approach can achieve."

The public was first exposed to the term "patient safety" nearly 20 years ago with the release of To Err Is Human: Building a Safer Health System, a report estimating that as many as 98,000 deaths in the US each year are the result of harm accidentally inflicted during a medical encounter.

Recent studies claim that four times as many deaths can be attributed to medical harm, making it by some estimates the third leading cause of death in the US and a source of long-term physical, emotional, and psychological damage.

"We've seen success in targeted areas, such as reductions in healthcare-associated infections and hospital-acquired conditions," said Brady. "Those gains have been supported by prominent national initiatives and efforts involving governmental agencies and public-private partnerships."

"This renewed, shared focus on keeping patients safe and the work of the National Steering Committee reflect the importance of effective coordination at all levels from national organizations to individual clinicians," said Brady.

The care continuum includes office practices, ambulatory centers, and clinics where most care is now delivered in the US. Studies about the extent of harm and effective strategies to address problems in these settings, such as errors in diagnosis and lost test results, are only now starting to get attention.