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Josie's Story Teaches Hospitals How to Become Safer

Janice Simmons, for HealthLeaders Media, September 3, 2009

King took the challenge, and started by talking groups of medical professionals at Hopkins. She met with residents who were unfamiliar with the Institute of Medicine findings on patient safety. Pronovost encouraged her to take her message to even bigger audiences, such as those attending meetings of the Institute of Healthcare Improvement.

In her message, she tells her audiences that she is not a physician or nurse and she has no medical background. "What I do tell them is what I see and what I saw and what I think they could fix," she said. And that the way to address many patient safety issues is "something as simple as communication."

But beyond just telling her story, King has seen new ideas implemented from her experiences—most notably the use of "Condition H" (where "H" stands for "help") in hospitals across the country. Condition H, which is discussed further in this month's issue of HealthLeaders magazine, encourages patients and/or families to dial a special number during hospitalizations that alerts a rapid response team to assist if a medical emergency is perceived. The program, which started at a University of Pittsburgh Medical Center hospital in 2005, is now being used nationwide.

The foundation has also implemented a family care journal project. A number of hospitals across the country are giving the journals to hospitalized patients and their families so they can monitor day-to-day activities—from daily goals to names of medications to the names of their medical team members. The journal can be seen as "a symbol of the hospital reaching out to the patient and saying: ask questions," King said.

"I think that she's touched the healthcare community in a way that few others have been able to," Pronovost said of King. "I go around the country and [I know] that there are thousands of hospitals that show [the recording] of King talking about Josie.

"But one of the pleas I make to hospitals—and I say this to senior leaders—is that we will know we're starting to make progress in safety when they have the courage to tell their own Josie story," Pronovost said. "It's easy to say this is what Hopkins did, and it's meaningful for staff and leadership.

"But [stories like] Josie's are happening at hospitals all over the country. What was transformative for Hopkins was that we accepted responsibility," he said. "It can't be just a Hopkins' story: It's got to be whatever hospital you're at—[to say] 'we own it now.'"


Janice Simmons is a senior editor and Washington, DC, correspondent for HealthLeaders Media Online. She can be reached at jsimmons@healthleadersmedia.com.

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