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To Do No Harm: Safety as a Professional Obligation

Allan Korn, MD, for HealthLeaders Media, February 9, 2011

But of these three, SAFETY is paramount.

Not a day goes by when my email doesn’t have a product recall or another example of medical practice “gone bad” as a result of poor judgment or carelessness. 

An example of that recently appeared in the New England Journal of Medicine, which highlighted the misuse of diagnostic imaging tests -- providing as evidence the story of a 59 year old schoolteacher who received 100 times the average radiation dose during a brain CT. A test it turns out, that was not even necessary if the patient’s condition would have been properly diagnosed.

All of which points to the fact that we must never discount such common sense safety measures such as tracking radiation exposure or making imaging equipment safer.  

So what can we specifically do to focus more attention on improving patient safety?

Let’s first start by educating hospital boards, with the aim of encouraging them to become more engaged in adopting a number of processes including system level harm measurements that would directly improve the safety of patients.

It’s time we get the “boards on board” for quality care and safety issues. After all, responsibility for safety in hospitals lies, in part, on each institution’s board of directors.  This is actually the name of a program created by the Institute for Healthcare Improvement (IHI) to educate and engage hospital boards. In far too many cases, the responsibility of safety and quality concerns has been delegated by the board to the medical staff.

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1 comments on "To Do No Harm: Safety as a Professional Obligation"


Rhonda S. Bell, DBA (2/10/2011 at 10:44 AM)
Hi, Allan I admire your plea for safety to be brought back to the forefront of healthcare, especially with a history lesson. The Hippocratic writings have much fundamental value that I think we have lost in healthcare. We have focused on "hi-tech" and lost a great deal of the "hi-touch." Not that I am opposed to technology, many strides have been made to save lives. However, their does need to be a pendulum swing back to "hi-touch" to provide a balance in the safety of care. I would like to go a step further and recommend: "To Do No Harm: Safety as a Heart Obligation." Thank you so much for this article and bringing the safety and confidence in care back to the forefront of healthcare. Also, thank you for your work at BCBS and making this a global effort. Inspired and kind regards, Rhonda