International research highlights how to improve education on patient safety

University of Minnesota Professor Karyn Baum said many physicians have seen an occasional disconnect between improvement efforts and education.

Hailee Schievelbein

Hailee Schievelbein

by Natalie Cierzan

A new international research paper provided guiding principles for quality improvement and patient safety education for physicians.

After many medical field professionals came together for a Toronto conference in 2016, including a University of Minnesota researcher, they began to think about how to improve the healthcare system. Four guiding concepts were published this month in the journal Academic Medicine revolving around bridging the gap between improvement efforts and education. Researchers said they hope this paper impacts not only physicians, but also health systems around the world.

“It’s not just one country, one profession, one medical specialty,” said Karyn Baum, a co-author on the paper and a University professor of medicine. “… These are universal problems.”

According to the paper, these problems include things like patient safety education not being fully integrated into providing clinical care.

“The education world sits in one silo and the healthcare delivery system sits in another silo, and we don’t always talk to each other,” she said. “And what I want this paper to do is to spur people to talk to each other and to remember that they all have the same goals in mind, which is the improvement of the health of the population we serve.”

Part of how the University is attempting to diminish this divide is by using an anonymous reporting system for Medical School students, including students anywhere from nursing to pharmacy. The school is aiming to fix problems to avoid negatively impacting patients, she said.

“If you can turn [the system] into an army of people to tell you the good ideas they have, that’s pretty amazing,” Baum said.

There are also plans to develop a more standardized quality improvement curriculum at the University, she said. The Department of Anesthesiology already debuted a new online course last year to better teach quality improvement.

Despite the fact it is recommended that patient safety topics be taught in residency education, more progress could be made in implementing training, said Brian Wong, the lead author of the paper and an associate professor in the Department of Medicine at the University of Toronto.

“The ultimate hope is that patient care improves. The ultimate hope is that patient outcomes improve, but we believe that in order for that to occur, we would see a greater degree of alignment of the quality improvement patient safety activities,” he said.

This would include physician learners being more involved in training, Wong said. “If we’ve been able to improve learning, we’ve also been able to improve care for our patients,” he said.

The University is taking multiple approaches toward quality improvement, said Barbara Gold, anesthesiologist, chief clinical risk officer for M Physicians, and University professor in the Department of Anesthesiology. 

One of the new programs focuses on adverse clinical outcomes. The three pillars of the program include education, peer support and communication resolution. Communication resolution prepares medical students to deal with adverse outcomes while showing them how to approach families respectfully, Gold said.

“We can keep the lines of communication open so that [families] understand that there isn’t a veil that comes down if there’s an adverse event,” she said. “… For students, it’s to try to give them a picture of what they may encounter going forward.” 

The goal is to establish more skills and have these conversations to prepare future physicians, Gold said.

“In order for us to be effective in our constant pursuit to minimize harm, we need to educate our staff, as well as our learners, about how to prevent harm on an on-going basis … it’s a forever endeavor,” she said.