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Imagine if a jumbo jet crashed every day, killing all people on board. The aviation industry would be up in arms, calling for drastic reforms. The media would be all over it. People might not get on planes.

Yet today, it is estimated that an average of 200,000 people die a year in U.S. hospitals due to potentially preventable in-hospital medical errors.

My cousin Gayle was one of them. This past April, she went in for what was a routine procedure to check out what doctors thought was a clogged bile duct, but a piece of metal that had been left in from a previous surgery caused complications and she went into cardiac arrest.

Why isn’t the healthcare industry up in arms? Why isn’t the media all over this? Why are people still going to hospitals?

To Err is Human

Ever since the Institute of Medicine’s report “To Err is Human” came out in 1999, the healthcare industry has been attempting to improve safety. The government even jumped in with its list of non-reimbursable “never events.”

More than a dozen years have passed since the IOM’s report, without much improvement. Many people are still dying in hospitals from preventable medical errors — even more than the IOM’s original estimate of 98,000 a year.

Some believe that the culprit might be the rise in the number of procedures, tests, and prescriptions that American doctors are recommending for fear of lawsuits. Because the more procedures, tests, and prescriptions that are ordered, the greater the possibility of error.

Whatever the reasons, we must do all that we can to make hospitals safer. And that includes using an evidence-based design process to design and build safer hospitals.

Patient Safety Risk Assessment Tool

Recently, the Agency for Healthcare Research & Quality (AHRQ) and the Facility Guidelines Institute funded the development of a patient safety risk assessment toolkit to be used during the facility pre-design phase. The first deliverable of the project is a report that can be downloaded free from The Center for Health Design’s website.

There’s a bunch of good information in the 117-page report, which offers a recap of a national two-day seminar held to develop consensus around important safety issues. Two things in particular stood out for me.

One is the development of a safe design roadmap/CEO checklist to facilitate communication and optimization of safe design principles. Senior leaders need to be aware of the impact of the physical environment on safety and be involved in the design process.

The other is the Design Framework and Considerations in Appendix V that includes a list of 10 issues related to the physical environment that affect safety — things like standardization, staff fatigue, visibility, noise, communication, sources of infection, environmental hazards, automation, family involvement, and adjacencies.

So, read the report. Or, hear the project team present some of the key findings from the report at the HEALTHCARE DESIGN conference this Monday, November 5 at 4:45 p.m. And look for more tools to come out of this project.

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Sara Marberry_013-Retouched-New copy

What's my story? I'm a healthcare and senior living design knowledge expert who writes and speaks frequently about trends and issues affecting these two industries. I'm also a strategic marketing consultant and content creator, working with companies and organizations who want to improve the quality of healthcare and senior living through the design of the physical environment. You can reach me at .

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