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Quality Safety Investigator Program Encourages Bedside Nurses to be Patient Safety Champions

Heather Comak, for HealthLeaders Media, May 13, 2010

Empowering nurses to become leaders in patient safety can have positive effects not only on the patient population's quality of care, but on staff satisfaction levels.

At The University of Kansas Hospital (KUMED) in Kansas City, KS, Liz Carlton, RN, MSN, CCRN, director of quality, safety, and regulatory compliance, helped design a Quality Safety Investigator program (QSI) as a way to better involve bedside nurses in championing quality and patient safety. There is a designated QSI on each unit and he or she is provided dedicated time to focus on initiatives specific to their unit, as well as education in a group setting on topics like medication safety, handoffs, and hand hygiene.

KUMED has been designated in the American Nurses Credentialing Center's Magnet Recognition Program® (MRP) since 2006, and will apply for redesignation in October of this year. KUMED's philosophy is that the patient always comes first, Carlton says.

"They're responsible for taking that back to their unit, partnering with their unit leadership, and really driving those initiatives that are happening on their unit," says Carlton. "That is a great example of the Magnet model, empowering staff in an innovative way to share knowledge, share data, and make changes."

There are currently 39 QSIs at KUMC. Nurses interested in becoming a QSI have to go through an application process, says Carlton.

"When you get selected, you have to sign a contract that says you are going to participate and be engaged, and your manager has to sign a contract also that says they're going to support you in being participative and engaging, so that you can't use the excuse of 'well my manager wouldn't let me off,'" says Carlton.

Not only has this program helped encourage some nurses to become leaders, it has brought about greater staff involvement across the organization. Peers are influenced to join the program, says Carlton. The QSIs get their own scrub tops, are sent to outside conferences for additional training, and receive the necessary tools to act as a QSI. When their nurse peers see many of the rewards that QSIs take advantage of, they too become interested in the program, says Carlton.

Additionally, the QSI program is a mentor opportunity for staff members in the quality and performance improvement world. Mentors share advice with QSIs from various departments about gathering and presenting data. Carlton says she is a mentor for a QSI in maternal and child health, even though she doesn't know as much about the clinical aspects for this unit. This helps the QSIs run their specific performance improvement projects.

“The message I give the staff is . . . you're the one that's taking care of the patient more than anyone else," says Carlton. “That patient—the quality, safety, and care that's provided to the patient—is owned by you. If you empower that nurse to be able to impact their practice, put input into changing a policy or protocol . . .  that's all the more stronger because of it."


Heather Comak is a Managing Editor at HCPro, Inc., where she is the editor of the monthly publication Briefings on Patient Safety, as well as patient safety-related books and audio conferences. She is also is the Assistant Director of the Association for Healthcare Accreditation Professionals. Contact Heather by e-mailing hcomak@hcpro.com.

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