March 18, 2020
(Courtesy: Florida Times-Union)
In January, Jacksonville University will launch two new online degree programs to help decrease medical errors. The Master of Science in Healthcare Quality and Safety and Post-Graduate Certificate in Healthcare Quality and Safety — the first of their kind in the state — are designed for working professionals already in the health-care field.
In 1999 a landmark report called “To Err Is Human” estimated that almost 100,000 patients in the United States died annually because of preventable medical errors. Subsequent studies cited much higher figures, from 250,000 to 440,000 such deaths every year.
Even one deadly error is too many, said Teri Chenot, an associate professor at Jacksonville University’s Keigwin School of Nursing and program director for the college’s health care quality and safety programs.
“It is a broken system,” she said.
In January, under Chenot’s leadership, JU will launch two new online degree programs to help decrease medical errors. The Master of Science in Healthcare Quality and Safety and Post-Graduate Certificate in Healthcare Quality and Safety — the first of their kind in the state — are designed for working professionals already in the health care field.
“This is a good time, the 20th year since the landmark study,” she said.
Despite increasing deaths, there are few nursing degree programs designed specifically to help health care professionals avoid errors and spot others making them. Currently there are only 17 such degree programs in the country and none in Florida — the closest is at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, she said.
“Even though a lot of good things have happened [since the 1999 report], we’re nowhere near where we need to be,” said Chenot, who is also director of the Quality and Safety Education for Nurses Institute Regional Center at JU, which advocates for quality and safety of health care systems. “This is an emerging field.”
Physician David Rice, senior vice president and chief quality officer at Baptist Health, has been working with Chenot, who called him a “quality expert.”
“There is nothing more important in health care than providing patients with high quality, safe care,” Rice said. “Jacksonville University has developed a program which equips health care professionals with the tools to proactively build safe systems of care.”
The “To Err is Human: Building a Safer Health System” report was produced by the National Academy of Medicine, then called the Institute of Medicine. The report estimated that as many as 98,000 people died in any given year from medical errors in hospitals, which it said was more than the number of deaths from motor vehicle accidents, breast cancer, AIDS or workplace injuries.
That report and subsequent ones divided “preventable adverse events” into five categories: errors of commission, omission, communication and context and diagnostic errors. They can stem from human failures, such as a misdiagnosis, incorrect dose of medication or an undetected surgical complication, or system failures such as a computer breakdown.
“Add the financial cost to the human tragedy, and medical error easily rises to the top ranks of urgent, widespread public problems,” according to the report.
In 2003 when Chenot was patient safety officer at a local hospital, she became passionate about the cause. She merged her background in clinical nursing with her growing concerns about medical errors: Her doctorate dissertation was Frameworks for Patient Safety in the Nursing Curriculum. Also, she has been involved in state, national and international health care quality and safety initiatives and conferences — the latest, JU’s Patient Safety Forum is in March 2020.
“This has been the whole focus of my career,” said Chenot, who in October was inducted as a Fellow in the American Academy of Nursing.
The level of clinical excellence can be increased, medical error prevention can be addressed and health outcomes can be improved, she said.
The programs will be interprofessional: for hospital nurses, physicians and administrators, as well as health care professionals who work in community health clinics.
“Not all medical errors occur in hospitals, Chenot said.
Already there has been “global interest” in the programs, because there are so few of their ilk and JU’s offerings will be totally online, she said.
But more than additional training will be needed to eliminate errors, Chenot said. Patients and families must be vigilant, ask questions and express concerns. And staff must be encouraged to report errors as soon as they happen without fear of firing or other retribution, she said, and those errors should be transparent to patients and their families.
“Do not hide errors,” she said. “Be above board.”