Safety in health care means anticipating and preventing avoidable harm that could come to patients as a result of their care. The safety of our patients is one of our highest priorities at UAB Medicine. Like most health care organizations, we have put many safety practices and programs in place, but we believe that safety isn’t simply the result of a practice or program – safety belongs at the heart of the organizational culture.
UAB Medicine is committed to building a strong culture of safety, because organizations that make safety a top priority build in more opportunities to catch a mistake before it can reach a patient to cause harm. In a culture of safety, all staff are equally committed to an increased awareness of safety in all of their actions. Everyone has the responsibility to recognize, report, and help correct situations that put safety at risk. Some of the actions taken to reach our goal of a safety culture at UAB Medicine include:
- Asking staff for their help to identify any areas with opportunities for improvement through surveys and leadership rounding.
- Recognizing and rewarding staff who are making a difference in patient safety by reporting “good catches”, which are cases in which a mistake was caught before it could harm a patient.
- Implementing an improved database for reporting and analyzing patient safety events and trends.
Measures of safe care that are publically reported most often focus on the ability of the health care organization to protect patients from health care-associated infections and other potential negative side effects of receiving medical care.
Health Care-Associated Infections
A health care-associated infection (HAI) is an infection acquired while receiving care for another health condition. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 1 in every 31 patients gets a HAI while receiving medical care in settings like clinics, nursing homes, and hospitals.
While our goal is to prevent all health care-associated infections from occurring and spreading, there are many factors that make this goal challenging to achieve. Unbroken skin is the first layer of defense against bacteria that could cause an infection. Many of the treatments needed to provide care for those who are ill require entry points into the body in the form of intravenous (IV) lines, urinary catheters, and surgical incisions. Any entry point into the body could be used by bacteria to cause an infection. Another challenge is that many people seeking health care have weakened immune systems caused by illness or treatments for illness. A healthy immune system protects against many germs that could cause an infection. When weakened, the immune system may not be able to prevent an infection.
Despite this, most health care-associated infections are preventable. Some steps that can be taken to prevent infections include cleaning hands at appropriate times by washing with soap and water or disinfecting with hand sanitizer, using germ-free techniques when placing medical devices into the body, using protections like gowns and gloves to prevent the spread of germs, and proper environmental cleaning.
At UAB Medicine, in addition to these steps, we use evidence-based care bundles to prevent HAIs. An evidence-based care bundle is a small set of research-proven health care practices that help prevent health care-associated infection when used consistently. Every infection that occurs at UAB Medicine is closely examined, and lessons learned are shared among all staff to continually improve our quality of care.