Opinion: Collaboration needed for health care safety

By Donna Kusuda

Nearly 500,000 Coloradans qualify for help that will lower the cost of health insurance this year, and tens of thousands have already enrolled. Many new patients will have access to the health care system, and some will begin a relationship with a primary care provider for the first time in their lives.

Donna Kusuda

Donna Kusuda

However, they may have little or no knowledge about what it means to be an engaged and informed patient. To ensure safe health care, we have a critical task to educate these new patients and build strong bridges between them and their health care providers.

Understandably, over the last few months, the importance of health care safety has been overshadowed by issues such as funding and access. Yet, studies show that increased awareness of health care safety, among patients and all types of providers, reduces costs and improves the quality of care.

By offering resources and information, we can empower individuals to make better health care decisions, take smarter actions and engage in an informed manner with medical and insurance professionals.

Educated patients are their own best advocates and foster strong relationships with doctors and other health care providers. Subsequently, these partnerships form the foundation of safer and higher-quality health care. As many new patients prepare to enter the health care system, a coalition of Colorado health care organizations is focusing efforts on sharing knowledge and cultivating patient-provider relationships.

The coalition, Think About It Colorado (TAIC), is comprised of leaders from health care, patient advocacy and business communities dedicated to promoting statewide awareness of the needs and opportunities for safer health care. TAIC also serves as the bridge across diverse health care organizations by bringing all partners together to enhance a culture of safety.

Patients will only assume a more active role in their health care once they are comfortable in their knowledge and encouraged to speak on their behalf. One challenge is that information about health care safety is often fragmented across many locations. Health professionals and health care facilities can work to solve this problem by streamlining resources for patients and ultimately creating an environment that empowers them and makes health care safety a priority.

TAIC recognizes the important role of providers in this equation and is helping them engage patients in safer care. Medical providers must feel comfortable sharing important lessons learned and challenges about practicing medicine. If problems or shortcomings in care arise — as they inevitably do — they should be shared with patients so all parties can work collaboratively to prevent errors and address the systems that led to those errors.

Already, providers in all health care settings, particularly hospitals, have implemented initiatives that have reduced patient error and resulted in greater accountability. Colorado continues to demonstrate improvement in this critical area but, still, more than 40,000 incidents of medical harm occur in the United States every day.

TAIC is committed to strong, genuine partnerships between empowered patients and providers. That is the only way to continue to reduce the number of incidents. By holding health care professionals accountable in a constructive manner, we can further build an environment of trust and open dialogue.

At a time when our health care system is about to encounter so many new patients, health care safety warrants our collaborative attention and solution-oriented thinking.

Donna Kusuda is chairperson of Think About it Colorado, a nonprofit based in Denver that provides consumers and health care providers with tools and resources for safer health care.

Opinions expressed in Health News Colorado represent the views of the individual authors.

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