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Employers Role in Patient Safety

Uncomfortable-ShoesHealth premiums paid by employers and their employees are profoundly impacted by health costs, especially when the care was inappropriately delivered.

Since the release of Heartland Health Research Institute’s Silently Harmed white papers, a number of employers have inquired about how they can influence patient safety practices in the hospitals that serve their communities.

To be clear, there are no easy answers. Employers are deservedly frustrated with the perceived leverage they have to influence necessary progress on this issue that dually impacts costs, and most importantly, lives. When it comes to patient safety, there appears to be just enough self-interest group regulation that precludes the public from igniting a patient revolution.

It has been said that revolutions never happen in comfortable shoes – and so it goes with healthcare.

Healthy organizations require healthy employees. From the employer perspective, ‘patient safety’ should be equally balanced with two other initiatives: affordability and high-quality outcomes. This ‘holy trinity’ of value – cost, quality and safety – serve as the cohesive bond for all payers – government, carriers and employers. Armed with the right information, employers can play a proactive role in changing the healthcare delivery landscape that is currently going through a seismic evolution (if not a revolution). In fact, now is the time for employers to inject their influence to a mammoth industry that requires major disruption.

Employers, assisted by carriers, can begin to craft health plans that reward safety practices and discourage (or penalize) non-compliance, urging hospital boards to make patient safety a priority. This can be done by insisting that providers implement safety measures that demonstrate adherence to patient safety cultures. By leveraging this new role, employers can educate their employees on how they can engage more effectively with their healthcare partners to receive better care. Distributing patient safety literature to employees and family members can serve as important reminders for patients to proactively seek care from providers who have proven to give the right care at the right time. Visiting the National Patient Safety Foundation website can be a great first step to increase awareness about patient safety issues. There are many other organizations promoting quality and safety measures, such as The Leapfrog Group, which cleverly includes a ‘hidden surcharge calculator‘ for Leapfrog members to calculate their average annual hidden hospital surcharge resulting from medical errors.

Iowa is served by very capable and well-intentioned providers. But the question is not as much about the people who care for us, rather, the ‘systems’ in which they operate. Due largely to self-interest concerns, medicine is unable to regulate itself voluntarily – it needs a push from those who have much at stake – employers and other purchasers.

Employers can and must promote patient safety measures when purchasing health coverage. There is no better time than now for this to happen.

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What Iowa Employers Really Want: Cost, Quality and Safety

A bullhorn or Megaphone with the word Value to stress a companyIn our 2013 Study, Iowa employers rated healthcare providers within their respective communities on 11 performance indicators as well as ‘Trust.’ The results of this survey was summarized in our ‘Voices for Value’ white paper and serve as both a baseline and a conduit for additional, meaningful dialogue on how to improve the healthcare we receive in Iowa and elsewhere.

As a corollary to last year’s study, we asked employers this year to rate the importance of the 12 performance indicators using a 10-point scale, where 1 means “not at all important” and 10 means “most important.” The purpose of this module was to learn which of the indicators are most important to Iowa employers. Their answers to this significant question now provide a meaningful weight to how employers sounded off in our 2013  ‘Voices.’

From our latest study, Iowa employers have spoken yet again. When it comes to healthcare, they prioritized the three following indicators:

  1. Keeping Costs Reasonable
  2. Keeping Quality of Care Consistent
  3. Safety of Care Delivered to Patients

It’s a very reasonable request, don’t you think? After all, they are the ones paying for it.

Iowa Employers Rank Performance IndicatorsAll 12 indicators scored at least 7.9, which clearly suggest that ALL indicators are very important to employers. However, only three indicators scored at least ‘9’ – Cost, Quality and Safety. This appears to be very intuitive. But I must confess, I was somewhat surprised to learn that ‘Safety’ was an eyelash away from being the second most important indicator overall – and it was the top indicator for those employers with at least 250 employees.

Iowa employers are very perceptive; as ‘safety of care delivered to patients’ SHOULD be a priority for obvious reasons. For those who have followed my previous blogs, quality and safety issues in the U.S. healthcare ‘system’ are, at best, worrisome – and, at worst, reprehensible.

Perhaps we have suspected these results to be factual all along, but now we have undeniable evidence of what employers REALLY want from their community healthcare providers. When combining cost with consistent quality and safety of care, employers seek high-value healthcare from those who deliver it.

Employers have my attention – but they need the attention of those delivering the care for which they are handsomely paying.

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