CMS Will Soon Track Your Failure to Rescue Data—Are You Ready?

Rebecca Hendren, March 30, 2010

Are you tracking your hospital's failure to rescue rates? You'd better be, because CMS will—starting June 1.

Failure to rescue is defined as the percentage of major surgical inpatients who experience a hospital-acquired complication and die. And it's the first such nursing-sensitive performance measure on the list of 15 identified by the National Quality Forum in 2004 to be collected by CMS. It is also a red-flag indicator of how much time nurses are at the bedside. Nurses who spend a significant time in direct patient care—rather than in redundant paperwork for example—have been shown to prevent failure to rescue through early recognition of patients' clinical deterioration.

Studies—such as this recent one—show that nurses spend a significant amount of time in non-value added, non-patient care activities. An Institute of Medicine report in 2004 estimated RNs are only in patient rooms for 1.5 hours out of a 12-hour shift. The implications of this could have wide reaching ramification for hospitals once CMS starts analyzing and publically reporting failure to rescue data.

There are a number of high-profile initiatives—such as the IHI/RWJF-sponsored Transforming Care at the Bedside—that aim to remove some of the barriers that keep nurses away from the bedside and therefore improve quality of care.

VHA, Inc. is a national healthcare alliance of more than 1,400 not-for-profit hospitals, and Lillee Gelinas, vice president and CNO, says the organization knows that increasing the amount of time nurses spend at the bedside is key to optimal quality, safety, and patient experience outcomes. As a result, VHA embarked on a strategy in 2008 to address this issue, which it named retuRN to care.

VHA analyzed data from two organizations that had impressive nursing-at-the-bedside data: Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in LA and Barnes-Jewish St. Peters in Missouri.

"Through our qualitative research method, we created blueprints of their leading practices," says Gelinas. "They had eliminated hunting and gathering and waiting for information. Nurses spending a lot of time looking for equipment, going to the pharmacy to get drugs, looking for a wheelchair, waiting for doctors to call back, waiting for another department to call back with lab report or X-ray results."

VHA also had nurses track what they were doing during shifts and used PDAs to measure their time. After the study, they analyzed what nurses were doing that could be considered non-value added and developed ways to reduce those distractions.

Gelinas says some of the strategies that had most success involved technology, such as giving nurses cell phones so they didn't have to wait at nurses stations. Other benefits came from educating other departments and bringing them onboard. For example, nurses frequently had to go to the pharmacy for medications because pharmacy staff were too busy to deliver them. The retuRN to care initiative illuminated the issue for pharmacy staff, who could see the effect on patient care of nurses leaving the unit.

Rebecca Hendren Rebecca Hendren is a senior managing editor at HCPro, Inc. in Danvers, MA. She edits and manages The Leaders' Lounge blog for nurse managers. Email her at
Facebook icon
LinkedIn icon
Twitter icon