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Biden urged to make improving patient safety a national priority


A presidential advisory panel recommends the White House take action to lower the number of harmful events in hospitals. Patient advocates offered praise.

It’s time for President Biden to lead a “transformational” initiative to improve patient safety in hospitals, according to a key advisory panel.

President Biden should elevate improving patient safety to a national priority, according to a key federal advisory panel. (Photo: The White House)

President Biden should elevate improving patient safety to a national priority, according to a key federal advisory panel. (Photo: The White House)

Calling patient safety “an urgent national public health issue,” the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology has issued a report calling on the Biden administration to take steps to reduce preventable mistakes. Significantly, the council urges the president to make improving patient safety a national priority.

The council’s 35-page report makes several recommendations, including establishing  a national patient safety coordinator reporting to the president.

The White House should also form a multidisciplinary group (a “National Patient Safety Team”) to focus on ways to improve patient safety, and the team should include individuals from affected populations, the council said.

In a letter to Biden accompanying the report, the council said despite the dedicated efforts of doctors, nurses and other healthcare workers, “dangerous and preventable events continue to occur at surprisingly high rates.”

“Concern about errors is not new, yet progress in addressing our rates of adverse health outcomes has been unacceptably slow,” the council stated.

The council made several other key recommendations.

  • Ensuring that patients get evidence-based practices for addressing harm and reducing risks.
  • The federal government should require public reporting of “high-priority harms by individual healthcare organizations.” The council suggests reporting should be done annually at first, and then more frequently in the future.
  • Patient safety efforts should entail working with patients to reduce disparities in outcomes and medical errors in disadvantaged groups. The council calls for better data and improved transparency to reduce disparities.
  • Accelerating research and technology to improve patient safety. The council suggests forming a national patient safety research agenda and utilizing advances in information technology.
  • The National Patient Safety Team should partner with healthcare workers on ways to reduce harmful events to clinicians and other staff. The team should then disseminate best practices to reduce harms such as “needle stick injury, back injury, falls, radiation, and psychological and physical burnout.”
  • The president should set a goal of minimizing harm to patients by seeking dramatic and sustainable improvements by 2030.

The council, which is made up of science and policy advisors outside of the federal government, pointed to a host of disturbing data on the need to improve patient safety.

About one in four hospitalized Medicare patients experienced harm in 2018, according to an analysis by the Office of Inspector General in the Department of Health and Human Services. More than 40% of those harmful events could have been prevented, the report stated.

The COVID-19 pandemic appears to have done additional damage to patient safety efforts in hospitals, federal officials have said. In an analysis published in the New England Journal of Medicine in February 2022, they cited substantial increases in hospital-acquired infections.

Leah Binder, president and CEO of The Leapfrog Group, a nonprofit group focused on patient safety, said the advisory council makes important recommendations. She singled out the call for the patient safety team and the recommendation of publishing significantly harmful events by individual facilities.

In an interview with Chief Healthcare Executive® just days before the council issued its report, Binder said hospitals have made some progress in improving patient safety in recent years. But she noted some of that progress was lost in the pandemic, and the Leapfrog Group’s spring 2023 hospital safety report found a significant rise in hospital inspections.

“We did see this spike in infections, which is extremely disturbing, because there have been so many efforts and successful efforts in the past decade to reduce those infections,” Binder said. She said she is hoping to see hospitals begin to make progress in the near future.

Joe Kiani, the founder of the Patient Safety Movement Foundation and the CEO of Masimo, serves on the president’s council. In a statement, he expressed confidence that the report could make a difference.

“Preventable medical errors take hundreds of thousands of lives each year. I am optimistic that these recommendations will help fast-track solving this critical problem that destroys so many lives,” Kiani said

Kiani added that Biden has been awaiting this report and he called the president “our country’s biggest patient advocate.”

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