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A smoke-alarm for patient safety and healthcare quality

December 13, 2010

Patient experience should be the “smoke-alarm” for patient safety and healthcare quality.
I first used this analogy over two years ago, but a) it seems as relevant as ever and b) people seem to like it and get it as an example of just how powerful properly harnessing patient experience can be in making significant improvements in the quality and safety of healthcare.

There is such a massive need for a predictive, timely system to help those of us delivering (and receiving!) care to be alerted when things are starting to “smoulder”, e.g. before patients are damaged or killed. After the tragedy of children’s cardiac surgery in Bristol we were assured that the Health Care Commission and then the Care Quality Commission, was the answer and would prevent a repeat. But all they did was report on the repeats in Mid-Staffs and others. We must do better, a lot better.

A good smoke alarm gives the user confidence – if all is quiet they can be confident their house is not on fire.
It actively watches 24 hours a day, every day of the year – not just on selected weeks or months.
Installed properly the system will be monitoring the whole house – not just random areas, leaving others unprotected.
True safety requires an appropriately sensitive system that accurately indicates where the smoke is – not just a rough idea of somewhere in the building.

Measuring and monitoring patient experience in real time delivers these same benefits in healthcare – truly protecting patients (and staff) by predicting a fall in safety or quality and providing an accurate localisation of the problems.

An organisation (or individual) that properly harnesses patient experience (not just with a few surveys or a scattering of tracking-pads) will do so across the whole organisation – every ward, every clinic and every department. Publicly sharing all the detailed feedback gives the public, patients and clinical teams confidence that the care delivered is safe and of high quality.

If you are on the board of an NHS Trust, or have responsibility in any organisation delivering healthcare, ask the CEO where the smoke-alarm for patient safety is – and ensure someone has checked the batteries recently.

Smoke-alarms save lives – so does accurately monitoring patient experience.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. June 9, 2011 12:12 pm

    Use patient experience as a smoke alarm for the NHS – great idea.


  1. Smoke alarm to detect poor patient care | I Want Great Care

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