During Patient Safety Awareness Week last week, the following interview from the New York Times caught my attention. In Doctor Leads Quest for Safer Ways to Care for Patients, Dr. Peter J. Pronovost, medical director of the Quality and Safety Research Group at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, describes his quest for patient safety after the misdiagnosis of his father and the death of a child from a catheter-associated infection.
At one point in the interview, Dr. Pronovost talks about improving physician handwashing practices. Part of the solution was for the nursing staff to make sure the doctors wash their hands and if the doctors didn’t wash, the nurse could stop the procedure. The following excerpt from the interview demonstrates how both the nurses and doctors responded:
Q. HOW DID THAT FLY?
A. You would have thought I started World War III! The nurses said it wasn’t their job to monitor doctors; the doctors said no nurse was going to stop takeoff. I said: “Doctors, we know we’re not perfect, and we can forget important safety measures. And nurses, how could you permit a doctor to start if they haven’t washed their hands?” I told the nurses they could page me day or night, and I’d support them. Well, in four years’ time, we’ve gotten infection rates down to almost zero in the I.C.U.
Wonderful outcome, right? Yes, but the strategy was not well-accepted initially. Later in the interview, Dr. Pronovost discusses the benefits of empowering nurses and avoiding the hierarchical structure seen in so many settings. As nurses, we spend the most time with patients, we are aware of subtle changes in their condition, and we have a duty to speak up when patient safety is at risk. Along the same lines, we also have the right to be heard. In short, to have a successful team, mutual respect and effective communication are critical.
How comfortable are you with your team? What approach would you take in reminding a colleague (nurse, physician, or anyone else) to wash his or her hands?