Last week was the first of three annual Patient Safety Summer Camps for graduate resident physicians in 2017. Each year, I learn from the resident scholars who attend about the current safety challenges and barriers they face on a daily basis as they try to both deliver safe care to patients, and learn to become good physicians. Over the last few years, however, I have noticed a growing concern among our Telluride Scholars, a theme that centers on the overall well being of resident physicians in the healthcare workplace.
Discussions around resident well being reached an all-time turning point this past week during an interactive presentation on Care for the Caregiver programs led by Crystal Morales from MedStar Health. During the presentation, Crystal asked the residents to think back and remember the first patient death they experienced—not from a medical error, necessarily, but just the first patient they cared for who died. She asked them to focus on how they felt versus the details of the case, and then inquired if anyone was willing to share their story with the group.
A first brave resident raised her hand. Before she could finish her story, she broke down in tears yet she continued to talk about how that patient’s death affected her still to that day. A second hand was raised and then a third…it was like someone opened an emotional faucet. Each story shared seemed to be both validation and acknowledgment that the pain in serving witness to such loss deserved, and needed, to be honored. The sharing of these stories seemed cathartic; helping ease the pain this group collectively had been holding on to for far too long. Many in the room described Telluride as a “safe place” where they felt comfortable sharing these feelings, and their stories. Portions of their reflective posts on our Telluride Summer Camp blog are shared below. I encourage all of you to visit the Telluride blog and read their stories in their entirety.
- “The afternoon of day 3 left many of us in tears as we went through our stories of first deaths and tragic patient outcomes. It was clear, as these stories came out that many of us were still hanging on to these painful memories and will probably do so for the remainder of our careers. Another common thread in these stories was the lack of support after these unforgettable events happened. In healthcare, we are expected to take a deep breath and move on with our days as if nothing ever happened. Take another history, make another diagnosis, and speak to another family, all while making sure we check our emotions at the door”.
- “Yesterday during one of our group discussions, people went around the room discussing the first time they were involved in the death of a patient. The different stories told were poignant and extremely emotional. Some of these stories were quite recent while others happened years ago. The unifying trait in all of the stories was the raw emotion and pain in the voices of the speaker. Every story told ended the same way… “and then I just went back to work.” Years later it is entirely evident that these wonderful caring people are still hurting. As a profession we are failing. We are eating our young with the perverse attitude that it will build a thick skin and make you a better doctor. We are not robots.”
- “Why is this happening? We, the physicians, need to speak up. We need to consider how talking about our own reactions to and reflections of patient care events is indeed a critical piece of patient-centric care. Today, we finally had a chance to let it out, to vent our frustrations, to discuss our feelings of self-blame and near self-collapse. These stories are so important because we have to let each other know, YOU ARE NOT ALONE.”
- “If we are unable to care for ourselves, we won’t be able to provide the best care to our patients and their families. The tremendous support ‘care for the caregiver’ provides is amazing and has inspired me to investigate the options my institution can provide.”
- We discussed how good it felt today to open up about the loss of our patients and the support (or lack of) we get in these moments. So many times we just need to talk it out, feel heard, and feel validated. These conversations are cleansing and necessary.”
- “Today, we talked about care for the caregiver. After all, there is no other workplace like the hospital in terms of sacrifice, acuity, and risk of burnout. With such high stakes, healthcare providers are subject to exorbitant levels of stress that perhaps defy human physical, mental, and emotional capacity.”
In its 1999 report, To Err is Human: Building a Safer Health System, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) concluded that medical errors, particularly hospital-acquired conditions, may be responsible for as many as 98,000 deaths annually, at costs of up to $29 billion. Suddenly, quality healthcare and patient safety became central, public concerns in the United States. According to the Institute of Medicine (IOM; 2000), medical errors accounted for between 48,000 and 98,000 deaths annually in the U.S. At that time, medical errors were considered the eighth leading cause of death in the U.S.; more prevalent than deaths from breast cancer, AIDS, or motor vehicle accidents.
I started my practice in medical education in 2000 at Southern Illinois University College of Medicine. At that time we were creating a new and robust, medical curriculum. Similarly to other medical schools, however, we had just a few lectures in this content area. By 2003, quality and safety had become central concerns in the U.S. Communication failures were identified as the root cause of the majority of both malpractice claims and major patient safety violations, including errors resulting in patient death. The Joint Commission found that communication breakdowns were the root cause of 60% of medical errors, 75% of which resulted in death. 2,034 errors, which means 915 people died as a result of a communication error in 2003. Clearly it was time to get serious.
It was 2005 when I joined the University of Illinois Chicago College of Medicine faculty in the medical education department. I had the opportunity to engage with faculty members seriously interested in training learners in patient safety. For two years, I worked with this team to create and deliver lectures and simulations, co-lead a patient safety elective, and was invited to attend the Telluride Experience.
In early 2007, we were in the middle of creating a patient safety institute to deliver a formal curriculum on the subject. One of my goals was to create an online, degree-granting patient safety leadership program. 6 months later, the Master of Science in Patient Safety Leadership (PSL) proposal was created. Once it had been approved by the various required entities, the curriculum was created by our team of patient safety experts. In fall 2008, the first cohort of learners began; however, this was only the beginning. The PSL program was very successful and applications were rolling in. The learners couldn’t get enough learning and we were getting rave reviews. Despite the program’s success, however, I found a letter from the Senior Dean for Medical Education that said they no longer needed my services.
So the journey continued… Thankfully, I had received opportunities from other medical schools. As the Associate Dean for Medical Education at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine (UC), I had the opportunity to work with an amazing faculty and a very talented Senior Dean for Medical Education, Andrew Filak. Within 20 months, we created a new, contemporary, four-year medical school curriculum, which was awarded full accreditation from the Liaison Committee on Medical Education. . During these very busy years, we created an Institute for Healthcare Improvement (IHI) Open school and embedded safety, quality, and leadership into the curriculum. With other deans from nursing and pharmacy we implemented interprofessional sessions for medicine, nursing, and pharmacy learners. Each year, I also attended the Telluride Experience as a faculty member and continued to bring learners from UC to the events. One day, I picked up the phone and everything changed again.
It’s 2013 and the original PSL team is back together again; this time in Baltimore, MD and the District of Columbia. Despite 14 years of experience in medical education, I was amazed by how little quality and safety training was provided in medical and nursing schools nationwide. Basic training is required by accreditation bodies, but it does not adequately prepare the physicians and nurses for the complexity of medicine in today’s world. While some positive changes have occurred, we are still battling the same issues.
A little over a decade later, medical errors are now the third leading cause of death and account for more than 400,000 deaths per year. Recent studies have reported that as many as one-third of hospitalized patients may experience harm or an adverse event, often from preventable errors. Unfortunately, competencies for optimal patient care outcomes in the clinical environment include knowledge, skills, and attitudes in critical disciplines not traditionally trained in medical or other health science programs. Frankly, it’s hard to imagine that one can provide ‘care of the entire person’ if attention to quality care and patient safety is missing.
The absence of such training leads to medical errors – a serious problem that affects not just patients but also the health care workers involved. Many good physicians, nurses, pharmacists and other health care professionals have left the field due to depression and lack of support from their colleagues. Even more unfortunate, a growing number of health care professionals take their own lives each year when involved in a preventable medical error.
It’s 2017 and we have created a solution to this pervasive crisis. I worked with Georgetown University and MedStar Health to create a new Executive Master’s Degree in Clinical Quality, Safety and Leadership (CQSL).
CQSL unleashes a systematic, evidence-based education that will achieve striking results in safety, quality, reliability, and healthcare value. With a learner-focused environment the CQSL program will equip learners to become leaders in the advancement of safety science and quality healthcare. The curriculum includes online asynchronous coursework, simulation, team training, and one onsite residency. The inaugural class begins in fall 2017.
Health-care practitioners and leaders need new skills and attitudes to meet the changing needs of patients in a medical environment that has complex multilayered systems, informatics, assessment, outcomes, and quality indicators. Secondary to these changes, health care has become a high-risk industry. As Yukl (2002) noted, “A vision is seldom created in a single moment of revelation, but instead it takes shape during a lengthy process of exploration, discussion, and refinement of ideas”.
And so the Journey continues…
As many of us begin our regular summer pilgrimage to Telluride, Colorado, it is hard to believe that thirteen years have passed since a small group of passionate healthcare leaders came together in Telluride to design a comprehensive patient safety curriculum for future healthcare leaders. As a result of that work, many wonderful and highly committed patient advocates and safety leaders will once again convene in Telluride the next two weeks to continue our mission of Educating the Young. For those not from Colorado, summertime in Telluride may be one of the best kept secrets in the United States. Be it the old west feel of the town, or the hypoxic “magic” that happens at an elevation of 9,500 feet, Telluride has always been an educational mecca for everyone that joins us during these memorable weeks of high altitude learning led by the MedStar Institute for Quality and Safety and the Academy for Emerging Leaders in Patient Safety (AELPS).
Over the past thirteen years, about 1,000 students and resident physicians from across the world have attended one of our AELPS Telluride Experience workshops. Many of our past alumni have gone on to lead work that has inspired real change at their home institutions–change that is helping make care safer and more transparent. We look forward to meeting yet another class of emerging patient safety leaders these two weeks who will also stand up for patients, transparency and a true culture of safety during their careers.
Through the generous support of The Doctors Company Foundation (TDCF), Committee of Interns and Residents (CIR), COPIC and MedStar Health, about 180 health science students and resident physician leaders will be attending one of four, week-long Patient Safety Summer Camps being held in the United States this summer. The US camps are held each year in Telluride CO, Baltimore MD, and Napa CA. In addition, another 100 future healthcare leaders will be attending one of our AELPS International Patient Safety Summer Camps this year in Sydney, Australia and Doha, Qatar.
A new generation of caregivers – young physicians, nurses, pharmacists and other allied health professionals – are stepping up and starting to make a difference in healthcare. Many of them understand and appreciate they will soon be the gatekeepers for safe, high quality, high value patient care. They are taking this responsibility seriously – more seriously than I and my colleagues did when we were their age. These young leaders are the future of healthcare…and the future is bright.
We hope you will follow our activities and learnings through our student, resident and faculty blogs, found here on ETY or The Telluride Blog, found here. Please comment and join our conversation on the blogs or on Twitter (@TPSSC and #AELPS13).
As we at the Academy for Emerging Leaders in Patient Safety (AELPS) prepare for our 13th year of Patient Safety Summer Camps for future healthcare leaders, I always reflect on a personal story I share the first day of each session to kick-off our week of work together. The story captures many of the reasons we have a preventable medical harm crisis today, such as: fear, devastation, lack of transparency, refusing to learn and improve from mistakes, lack of embedded human factors. The story also serves to show our young learners that we all are human and we all make mistakes, and helps set up a learning environment where they feel safe in sharing their own personal stories. Those who have only worked in healthcare a short time will have seen, or been involved in, an event that harmed a patient. For those that have followed our blog through the years, you have read some of these personal stories…mistakes that even harmed our own family members. I thought I would share my story with all of you.
Many years ago, I was involved in a medical error as a resident – a wrong-sided hernia repair that unfortunately harmed one of our patients. As the anesthesiologist, my job was to bring the patient into the operating room, put the required monitors on so I could make sure he was safe during the procedure, and then administer the general anesthetic that would keep him unconscious during his right-sided hernia surgery. I did that successfully and was focused on my job but, like others in the operating room, I didn’t notice that the senior surgical resident had taken the scalpel and made the surgical incision on the patient’s left side by mistake. Two minutes later the attending surgeon who had been detained with a question from another surgeon, came into the operating room, looked at the patient on the operating table and asked, “I thought this was a right-side hernia repair?” When the surgical resident realized her mistake, she passed out…the impact making a medical error can have on us as caregivers.
The surgeon closed the incision on the left side and then proceeded to fix the hernia on the right side. The patient now had two surgical bandages on their abdomen: one to cover the hernia repair, the other to cover our mistake. I dreaded having to see the patient in an hour and explain my part in the medical error that harmed him. I had never been involved in a medical error before, and was very nervous about the anger he might feel towards me and our team. When I went to meet the patient in the recovery room, I noticed he had a big smile on his face. This struck me as very odd. Before I could say anything, he looked at me and said, “Today is my lucky day”. I was dumbstruck. He continued, “Yes, today is my lucky day because under anesthesia my surgeon told me he discovered I had two hernias, one on each side, and was able to repair both at one time so I don’t have to miss another day of work to get the second one repaired”. It then hit me. The plan was to lie to the patient and cover up our mistake. I didn’t know what to say or how to react. After a very long pause, I responded, “Yes, today is your lucky day,” and I signed the patient out.
Not only were my six words to the patient “Yes, today is your lucky day” morally and ethically wrong, our lack of honesty and transparency kept us from learning how to prevent others from suffering similar harm. As a result, wrong-sided surgeries continued to occur far too frequently.
In defining professionalism in healthcare we use words like altruism, honor, integrity, respect, caring, compassion, and accountability to name a few. In telling my patient “Yes, today is your lucky day”, I violated every one of those principles we take an oath on when becoming a caregiver.
Finishing medical school is about looking back to your time as students and looking to the future as new graduates.
It’s the future I want to focus on. Medical school is just part of the continuum of medical education. You’ll keep learning new facts and new techniques. You’ll even find that as years pass and knowledge increases some things you learned in medical school have become obsolete or outdated, overtaken by new information.
But some things never change. One of these is the need to always put the patient first. It sounds so simple, but there will be many temptations to put the patient’s need lower on your list of priorities.
Many events and people will influence you. Some of these events will be errors you or others will be involved in. Most errors are not the fault of an individual, although the individual may be the last factor in a string of contributing causes. Most errors are the fault of a system where the safety of the patient is not always paramount. And when they do occur, they should always be seen as opportunities to learn and improve.
The people you meet and work with can influence you. Not all will be good influences. Some will be arrogant, some will cut corners, some will ignore protocols, some will not show respect for their patients or for other health professionals. Some will not put the patient first.
You’ll meet others who treat staff and patients with respect, who aren’t self-promoting, who sit at the bedside to talk with patients, who listen, who understand the value of other members of the care team, who want to learn as well as to teach and who put the patient at the centre of every decision.
Both groups have the potential to be role models, particularly if they have strong personalities or are much more senior than you. So pick you role models with care. Decide who you want to be like and who you don’t want to be like.
Here are my 10 tips for new graduates, tips that will help you right through your career, but more importantly, tips that will help your patients, giving them good care and keeping them safe.
- Never forget that patients are vulnerable.
- Remember that you are the guest in your patient’s illness.
- Listen to your patients. “What’s the matter with you?” is a good question but your care will be better if you also ask “What matters to you?”
- Use simple, clear language with your patients, remembering that good communication involves listening.
- Work collaboratively with and learn from nurses and allied health professionals.
- Admit your mistakes and use them as opportunities for improvement.
- Don’t accept standards and behaviours that aren’t in the best interests of the patient. The standard you walk past is the standard you accept.
- Keep learning, stay up to date.
- Never let people put you on a pedestal. Stay humble.
- Always put your patient first, never forgetting that “It’s all about the patient”.
Have a wonderful and fulfilling career.
Following are leads from Resident Physician reflections after attending the first 2016 session of the Telluride Experience. Links are included back to the original posting on the Telluride Experience blog. Thanks to all who so courageously offered their stories from the front lines of care so that others can learn through them. It is by sharing our stories that we free another to tell theirs as well.
The Magic In Transparency
This phrase struck me as the perfect way to describe an experience I had my intern year. My first continuity ob patient had a fetal demise at 34 weeks. She was the first patient I had followed from the beginning of her pregnancy. I performed her dating ultrasound at 9 weeks. Unlike many of my patients, she and her husband faithfully came to every prenatal visit. She did not smoke, use drugs and followed the dietary guidelines. Her husband was the chatter one of the duo, while she would calmly take everything in at our visits. They both teared up when I told them they were having a girl at the 20 week ultrasound. They told me her name was Emma. More…
I was not going to share this but have been inspired by the courage of others around me. So thank you!
…In the first few days of Residency, we had a mandatory “Emotional Harm” meeting. I thought it was nice of them to do and always a good reminder. It focused on the empathy towards the patient and not losing our empathy when getting in the rhythm of dealing with similar situations and cases over and over again. I loved that they did this. This is something that is so important to remember and necessary to address.
Looking back however, I just wonder what about my emotional harm? Where are my resources? In this first 7 months of my residency experience two Senior Attendings committed suicide. I did not know the first, but I certainly knew the second. While there was heartfelt sadness and memorials to honor both, there was nothing else. No counseling offered to employees, no conversations, no checking in after some days, nothing at all. More…
Humility and Humanity
Humility and Humanity. This phrase stuck with me from Dan Ford’s talk. From medical school through residency it is drilled into us to be confident, un-phased, unemotional , these qualities are attributed to professionalism and success. Doctors are supposed to be infallible , so when we face an adverse outcome thats what we do instinctively. We become distant, listening to Helen, Sorrel and Dan thats the exact opposite of what patients need. Alienation only leads to prolongation of suffering for the patients family as well as the caregiver. Moving forward I hope to make these values a foundation of my practice.
Reading all the stories from my peers encouraged me to share as well, this was an amazing group of people and faculty. My first ICU night rotation as a PGY-2 I admitted a patient in DKA and septic shock. More…
The following is written by Guest Author and Patient Advocate, Carole Hemmelgarn
In the months of March and April I had the opportunity to take two amazing trips; one to Doha, Qatar and the other Sydney, Australia. Do I feel fortunate to have visited these incredible places? Absolutely! The irony is, however, I would not have been in either location if my daughter Alyssa’s life had followed its natural course.
I was invited to both places to be part of the faculty to teach patient safety and behavior change to the young emerging scholars in the fields of nursing, pharmacy, medicine and allied health. While these young individuals are regarded as our future patient safety leaders they represent something much more to me. They give me hope. Hope that we can start fixing a broken healthcare system by breaking down the hierarchy, improving processes and communication skills, creating resiliency, and learning to provide support and care to our very own healthcare providers. They are also the generation giving hope to patients and families; making sure we are at the center of care, and that our voices and stories are heard, listened to, and acted upon with dignity and respect.
Earlier this year I told my sister that 2016 was the ‘year of hope’ for me. People will tell me they want me to be happy, but I struggle to understand what happiness is or means. Hope, however, is something I can wrap my arms around. I can hope to see a beautiful sunrise while out running, to watch a smile spread across my son’s face, and to see a child exiting a hospital knowing they are leaving better than when they entered.
There is an incredible aftermath when you lose a child to medical errors. It is a topic rarely discussed and one no one can ever prepare you for. Grief is a journey; a journey without a beginning, middle or end. While those of us who have lost a loved one never want you to experience this overwhelming pain we would like you to understand why happiness may take time in returning, or hope may be the best we can ever do.
When I teach these young scholars, I share part of Alyssa’s story because it helps connect the head and heart, and we need to put this piece back into medicine and caring for patients. Every time I speak about Alyssa, I give a piece of myself and my hope is that you take this piece and use it to make change. The future of patient safety resides in hope because hope is not found looking down or back, it is only found looking up.