Q&A: Lucian Leape Wants Tougher Patient Safety Regs

Cheryl Clark, March 28, 2013

Mention the name Lucian Leape, and many providers will promptly think of the Harvard physician who alarmed the country with 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.

A former pediatric surgeon, Leape helped write the Institute of Medicine's two seminal reports, "To Err Is Human" (PDF)in 1999 and "Crossing the Quality Chasm" in 2001, and a decade earlier, authored two research papers in the New England Journal of Medicine revealing that 4% of hospitalized patients in New York suffered adverse events and more than a quarter of those were due to medical negligence.

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 special regulatory agency to compel safer hospital practices, using what he referred to as "brute force."

What's been tried through encouraging voluntary efforts, or paying hospitals incentives, or requiring public reporting to improve safety —while somewhat successful— is just taking too darn long, he believes.

"Voluntary is what we've been trying…and it's picking up. There's much more awareness of patient safety; we'll get there, but it may be a long time," he says. "And the accountable care organization movement is dramatically changing the way we pay for healthcare, and that may indeed lead to more collaborative teamwork. Public reporting is another incentive—I call it shaming—but nonetheless it does produce some results."


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