What we have here is a failure to communicate

 

It has been over 10 years since the prestigious Institute of Medicine reported that 90,000 patients loose their lives each year because of a preventable medical error. Mistakes such as prescription errors, wrong-site surgeries, and hospital acquired infections abound in hospitals. Despite this report and numerous attempts by agencies who are charged with keeping patients safe in the hospital, preventable medical injury and death isincreasing each year across our healthcare system. Tens of millions of dollars are spent attempting to change the culture of hospitals-placing safety as the number one priority. Now, the Joint Commission (an independent, not-for-profit organization that certifies hospitals and programs) even recommends that you take a sharpy with you to the hospital and mark where the surgeon should operate; so she gets it right! Yet, mistakes continue as evidenced by the looming problems faced by Parkland Hospital in Dallas.

We now know that errors are the proximate cause of the conflict. The root cause is in the system: failure in the design of processes, tasks, training, and working conditions that make errors more likely. As a result, many errors go unreported by physicians because of fear of litigation, blame and accusations of incompetence. Open communication must be fostered which means that the culture of fear which now exists in most hospitals must be replaced by trust because fear creates anxiety and mistrust, which leads to a breakdown in communication and a lack of collaboration and teamwork.

Whether you are the leader, provider or patient, ones’ values, beliefs, and personalities are always under close scrutiny in the healthcare profession. The widespread disparity of knowledge, power, and control between the parties makes the healthcare industry particularly prone to conflict and in the need to develop systems to resolve conflict. Rather than committing to open communication, collaboration, and patient involvement in managing conflict, many healthcare organizations still use hierarchical, legalistic and punitive-based approaches to manage conflict, thereby sweeping problems under the rug. Medical errors are never addressed because they are never discussed.

Cultural change must begin at the top. Leaders must set the example to create a culture of trust. This is the only way to protect patients from serious harm and provide the quality healthcare they deserve.

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