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February 17, 2017

Provincial initiative aims to improve health care safety

Health Quality Council employee Kate Fast is working with others in Saskatchewan’s health system to improve patient and staff safety.

Safety is a top priority in the provincial health system, and Saskatchewan’s health care providers and patients can play a big role in helping to make the systemic changes needed to reduce harm.

That’s the message from Kate Fast, lead of the provincial Safety Alert/Stop the Line Initiative. Safety Alert/Stop the Line, which is coordinated out of the Health Quality Council, is intended to support Saskatchewan’s health system in achieving the goal of zero harm to patients and staff by March 2020.

Fast is encouraging health care professionals, patients, and family members to think about what they can do to support a culture of safety. That can mean speaking up when a potentially harmful situation is recognized and encouraging others to do the same.

“Safety Alert/Stop the Line processes make it possible to stop any care process when a safety concern is identified, alert others, and get the help needed to fix the issue. It also creates a clear process to escalate concerns so that safety can be restored,” she said.

“If you are a health care provider, you can influence others by speaking up when a potentially harmful situation is recognized and by supporting others to do the same. You can work with your team members to determine what improvements can be made.

“As a patient or family member, you can also ‘stop the line’ by asking questions of your health care team if you are concerned something may be unsafe. You and your health care team are partners in your care.”

In October 2016, the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI) and the Canadian Patient Safety Institute (CPSI) released a report called Measuring Patient Harm in Canadian Hospitals. The report included data indicating that patients suffered harm in more than 138,000 hospitalizations in Canada in 2014-2015, and noted that one in five of those hospitalizations involved more than one occurrence of harm.

“It’s estimated that on any given day more than 1,600 hospital beds across the country are occupied by a patient who suffered harm that extended his or her hospital stay. In addition to what these patients and their families go through, their continued need for treatment also has a cost to the system, in that it keeps other people from getting the help they need,” the report stated.

The Safety Alert/Stop the Line Initiative encompasses processes, policies, and behavioural expectations that support patients, staff, and physicians to be safety inspectors, to identify and fix potentially harmful mistakes in the moment, or to stop the line and call for additional help to restore safety.

Safety leaders across the province are committed to working collaboratively through a community of practice – the Safety Alert/Stop the Line Network – to adopt standard policies and processes to ensure that patients and staff across Saskatchewan experience the same safe care. The Safety Alert/Stop the Line Initiative project team supports the Network, connects with provincial leaders, and helps to align the Safety Alert/Stop the Line work with other quality improvement initiatives across the province. It is expected that by March 31, 2018, all acute health care facilities will have their Safety Alert/Stop the Line systems in place. The team is currently working with leaders of long-term care facilities to determine how similar processes in these settings will work, with implementation planned for 2019.

 “Staff and providers come to work in the health system to make a positive difference for members of their community. They do not intend harm to patients, and don’t expect to be harmed themselves while providing care to those in need,” Fast said.

“Our goal is to ensure the system is designed to assist care providers in identifying potential harm to everyone in health care settings and stopping it before it happens.”

Making health care settings SAFER is everyone’s responsibility.

Being SAFER means:

S: Stop if you see something that is unsafe.                                                                          

A: Assess the situation. Ask for support from others, supervisors, or leaders.

F: Fix the unsafe situation if you can. If you can’t, then . . .

E: Escalate your concern. Call in help from a team member or leader.

R: Report unsafe situations, environments, and practices, including both instances of no harm and incidents that have resulted in harm to patients or staff. We can’t improve what we don’t know about.

HQC is launching a social media campaign to raise awareness about the Safety Alert/Stop the Line Initiative and to help foster a provincial dialogue about safety in health care. In February and March 2017, physicians, health system leaders, health care professionals, and patient and family advisors will share their thoughts on safety through a series of quotations presented via social media graphics. Follow HQC on Twitter (@hqcsask) and Facebook to see the campaign.