How often are patients harmed during the course of their medical care? Are risks to patients rising or on the decline? How does the safety of care in Massachusetts compare with the rest of the country?
At the Betsy Lehman Center, we are frequently asked questions like these. They are good questions, but the answers are neither easy nor complete. We need more and better data to answer them.
Measurement is the cornerstone of any improvement effort. Most of what is known about patient safety risks and harm is extrapolated from research because existing point-of-care metrics offer only a narrow view. Systems in most hospitals fail to detect and record the vast majority of adverse events that take place in patients’ care. Though more and more individuals seek care outside hospitals, there are scant measures for risks and harm individuals face in outpatient and long-term care settings.
The call for more useful data comes from three key constituencies:
- Physicians and health care leaders say that without solid data, it is difficult for them to pinpoint and mitigate key sources of risk to patients.
- Policymakers focused on improving health care quality and reducing cost need more information about the frequency and severity of medical harm.
- Consumers, too, lack the tools they need to make more informed choices about their care.
That said, there is enough research and “signal” data to know that improving the safety of care is a pressing public health challenge here as it is elsewhere in the country.