When I trained to be a pediatrician, the concept of patient safety was not one we really heard much about. Of course we worked hard to provide our patients with the safest, best care, but we were taught to expect a certain percentage of “complications” with little attention to how preventable they were. Post-operative infections, pressure ulcers, catheter associated infections and other challenges were to be avoided but the fact that a certain immutable number occurred was expected. Not so today.
Thanks to decades of research, myriad policy changes, standardized measures and reporting, and countless hours of effort on the part of dedicated clinicians and health systems everywhere, patients are safer today. It truly takes an entire healthcare “village” to aspire to eliminate harm from care. One essential player in that village is the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ). Since 1999, AHRQ has been supporting transformative work to help us understand when and how errors occur and how to prevent them. Perhaps the best known example of this AHRQ supported work is the Keystone project, where pioneering researchers led by Peter Pronovost refused to accept that the prevalence of central line associated bloodstream infections could not be reduced. The intervention they designed and tested has become the “poster child” for the best of health services research: relevant and consequential findings that were widely disseminated and applied and have now transformed practice, saving countless lives and reducing suffering.
AHRQ has gone far beyond this early success and in the last 15 years has supported the development, testing and evaluation of numerous other successful evidence-based interventions to improve patient safety. AHRQ-supported tools help hospitals and nursing homes reduce readmissions, healthcare-acquired conditions—including infections—and improve health literacy, patient/family engagement, and boost quality performance. AHRQ has supported the development of the measurement, research and monitoring tools that enable policymakers to know where we are improving and for whom safety remains a major challenge. The AHRQ Patient Safety Indicators are used by researchers, hospitals, and quality improvement organizations to compare safety performance, identify drivers and contributing factors as well as priorities for improvement efforts. The AHRQ Innovation Exchange lists over 590 patient safety related innovations and tools for application in a wide variety of settings. These are just a few of the many contributions that AHRQ is making to supporting safe care for patients.
AcademyHealth members are active in many areas of patient safety and quality research. Each year, the Annual Research Meeting has two themes related to patient safety and quality. In 2016, we received 331 abstracts in these two themes and in 2015 over 40 abstracts related to patient safety were presented. But we do much more to advance patient safety research! We manage the Friends of AHRQ Coalition and support continued funding to ensure that AHRQ can continue to support this critical work on patient safety. Each and every one of us benefits from safer care thanks to AHRQ.