The Call for Regulation Over Exhortation

Cheryl Clark, May 13, 2013

This article appears in the May issue of HealthLeaders magazine.

Editor's note: This piece is adapted from Cheryl Clark's March 28 online column, "Q&A: Lucian Leape Wants Tougher Patient Safety Regs." To read her weekly Quality Matters column, visit

Mention the name Lucian Leape, and many providers will promptly think of the Harvard physician who alarmed the country with the stunning breadth and scope of avoidable harm taking place in America's hospitals.

He's called the father of the modern safety movement, and there's even a Boston institute that carries his name.

The Harvard School of Public Health professor again made news at a recent Association of Health Care Journalists conference in Boston when he called for the creation of a regulatory agency to compel safer hospital practices.

"I'll put my chips on brute force, and that is regulation. We have a federal aviation agency for aviation, and certainly patient safety is every bit as important as aviation safety. We need a federal patient safety agency to set standards and enforce them and get this show on the road," he said.

I asked Leape to elaborate on his remarks, and so he did, in this interview.

HEALTHLEADERS MEDIA: What do we need to do to make healthcare safer?

LUCIAN LEAPE, MD: We need to quit blaming and punishing people when they make mistakes and recognize that errors are symptoms of a system that's not working right, and go figure that out and change the system so no one will make that error again, hopefully. We have to change the culture so everyone feels safety is his or her responsibility and identifies hazards before someone gets hurt.

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