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The Season of Hope

04.01.11 by Bill Santamour H&HN Managing Editor

I could be wrong, but I'm sensing a thaw in the debate over health care.

There are a lot of things to like about April here in Chicago. The temperature is moderating. The trees are in bud. The daffodils are blooming. The Cubs have yet to be eliminated from the pennant race.

Spring has finally, fully sprung, and here—and around the country—it seems to have brought a general lightening of the very bad mood we've all been in the last few years, ever since the economy collapsed and the national dialogue about politics and other issues turned so oppressively dark and polarizing.

I could be wrong, but I'm even sensing a thaw in the debate over health care. To be sure, the rhetoric is still fierce on many important details of the Affordable Care Act, but there seems to be an acknowledgement that with or without Reform with a capital R, the delivery of care is moving in the right direction.

One indication of that was a March visit by HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus, Ohio. She was there to "celebrate"—her word—the success of Solutions for Patient Safety, a collaboration of Ohio hospitals and businesses. Launched in January 2009 with a $1.5 million grant from the Cardinal Health Foundation, the initiative focused on reducing infections and adverse drug events. So far, it's achieved almost $13 million in health care savings, at least 900 fewer patient days spent in the hospital and nearly 3,600 fewer adverse drug events and infections in children.

More than 10 years ago, when the IOM released its report on deadly errors in hospitals, the outcry was deafening, and deservedly so. The press, the politicians and the public let rip a fusillade of criticism and demands for change.

But you know what? Nowhere were those demands voiced more passionately than in hospitals themselves. They echoed from the C-suite throughout every physician's office, nurses' station, patient room and treatment area. Instead of stiffening their upper lips and hoping the brouhaha would blow over, CEOs, their executive staffs and their clinicians coalesced around a mission to slash avoidable medical errors. Some, like Eastern Maine Healthcare Systems, profiled by Matthew Weinstock on page 46, committed to eliminating them altogether.

Hospitals have done so by identifying where errors occur; establishing a culture of accountability, not blame; testing a variety of strategies; compiling data, including ROI; implementing best practices internally; and sharing what they've learned with others in the field. In nearly every issue, H&HN spotlights another resource you can use to improve patient safety. One I've mentioned frequently in this column is the American Hospital Association's Hospitals in Pursuit of Excellence (www.hpoe.org).

There's a long way to go, no doubt about it, and we really should pick up the pace. But progress is being made and we have every reason to be optimistic. After all, isn't this the season of hope?

Go Cubs.

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The opinions expressed by authors do not necessarily reflect the policy of Health Forum Inc. or the American Hospital Association