Tag Archives: healthcare

Putting patient safety first

4 Dec

by Maria Panagioti, Senior Research Fellow

GP & Patient pulse_square

Delivering safe healthcare to patients and preventing patient harm is an international priority. Despite this, patient safety incidents are not uncommon. Around 10 per cent of patients experience a harmful patient safety incident whilst being treated. Such harmful incidents could be due to actions of healthcare professionals, healthcare system failures or a combination of both. Medication errors, misdiagnosis, wrong-site surgery, hospital-acquired infections and in-hospital falls are all examples of serious patient safety incidents which can result in patient harm.

While eliminating patient harm is a desirable goal, in practice it may not always be possible. A certain level of harm is considered inevitable because harm cannot always be predicted. For example, some adverse drug reactions occur in the absence of any error in the medication process and without the possibility of early detection.

Focusing on prevention

This understanding has recently led researchers and policymakers to focus on reducing preventable harm. Although full consensus about the nature of preventable harm has not yet been reached, most working definitions include the idea that preventable harm is identifiable, in that it can be attributed to medical care and modifiable in that it’s possible to avoid by adapting a process or adhering to guidelines. The focus on preventable harm could help policy makers and healthcare practitioners to devise more efficient and reliable plans to predict and prevent patient harm.

There has been a lack of clarity in the literature about the prevalence and main types of preventable harm – and how often severe harm such as death and severe injuries are likely to occur. In response to the need to better understand preventable harm, the General Medical Council commissioned our team to undertake a large systematic review and meta-analysis to understand the nature of preventable patient harm across healthcare settings including hospitals, primary care and specialty settings. The aim of this review is to help the GMC and stakeholders get a better understanding of types, causes and patterns of harm – with a view to identifying ways of mitigating them.

Letting numbers do the talking

We reviewed 149 published studies through this work and our findings in relation to the importance and impact of preventable patient harm were striking:

  • Six in 100 patients experience preventable harm and 13% of this preventable harm leads to permanent disability or patient death.
  • Medication incidents such as errors in ordering, prescribing and administering medication, and misdiagnoses are the main causes of preventable patient harm.
  • Preventable patient harm might also be higher in certain medical specialities such as surgery.

These findings provide useful direction on areas where regulators, the NHS and Government should invest to reduce preventable patient harm. For example, investment in interventions to reduce medication errors (particularly at the stages of prescribing and administration of medication) and preventing misdiagnoses would be encouraged by our findings.

In line with our findings, the importance of improving medication safety is fully recognised by the World Health Organisation who have recently identified Medication Without Harm as the theme for their third Global Safety Challenge. Given the large number of studies we reviewed, the quality and depth of data on preventable patient harm is relatively low. We need to invest in better research and reporting practices to understand which types of patient harm clinicians and healthcare systems can prevent.

In recognition of the importance of patient safety research, and following on from previous research undertaken in Manchester and London already having an impact on NHS frontline services, the NIHR announced funding of three new NIHR PSTRCs. Work began in August at the Centres – located in London, Manchester and Leeds – and their aim is to turn patient safety discoveries into practice.

By understanding the nature of preventable patient harm we can work towards eliminating it – saving lives and reducing unnecessary medical interventions. Investing in reducing key sources of preventable harm and improving reporting standards of future research studies on preventability of patient harm could be a major contribution to the safe care of patients.

The Foundations Framework for Developing and Reporting New Models of Care for Multimorbidity

15 Nov

by Jonathan Stokes, Research Associate in the Manchester Centre for Health Economics

J Stokes_Foundations Framework diagram

With colleagues at the Universities of Bristol, Glasgow and Dundee, we have published a framework aimed at improving care for patients with multimorbidity (two or more long-term conditions).

Long-term conditions and multimorbidity are a global health priority. Patients with multimorbidity receive more fragmented care and have worse health outcomes, and health systems struggle to address their needs. We need new ways of delivering care to address this.

To date, there has been limited success at delivering care that improves outcomes for these patients. One major problem is that there is no agreement on how to describe care for patients with multimorbidity. This makes it difficult for researchers to talk about their work, and to explain these new ways of delivering care to patients and policy makers. Our framework offers a starting point for addressing this issue.

Our framework describes care for multimorbidity in terms of the foundations:

  •  the theory on which it is based
  • ·         the target population (‘multimorbidity’ is a vague term, so we need to define the group carefully, e.g. a patient with diabetes and hypertension might have very different care needs than a patient with dementia and depression)
  • the elements of care implemented to deliver the model.

We categorised 3 elements of care: (1) the clinical focus (e.g. a focus on mental health), (2) how care was organised (e.g. offering extended appointment times for those who have multimorbidity), and (3) what was needed to support care (e.g. changing the IT system to better share electronic records between primary and secondary care).

We used our framework to look at current approaches to care for multimorbid patients. We found:

  • Care for multimorbidity is mostly based on the well-known Chronic Care Model (CCM). This was designed for people with single diseases, and may not be fit for purpose for patients with multimorbidity.
  • Much care is focussed on elderly or high-risk patients, although there are actually more people aged under 65 with multimorbidity. We need to make sure that models don’t neglect the needs of younger patients, or those who are at lower risk, who might have most to gain in preventing future health problems.
  • We need to look more at the needs of low-income populations (where multimorbidity is known to be more common), and those with mental health problems (multimorbid patients with a mental health issue are at increased risk for worse health outcomes).
  • There is an emphasis on self-management, but patients with multimorbidity frequently have barriers to self-managing their diseases.
  • The emphasis on case management (intensive individual management of high-risk patients) should take into account the evidence that while patient satisfaction can be improved, cost and self-assessed health are not significantly affected.

Health systems have only recently begun to implement new models of care for multimorbidity, with limited evidence of success. Careful design and reporting can help develop evidence more rapidly in this important area. We hope our framework can encourage better research which is urgently needed to improve care for those who use it most.

This free to read article can be found at the following link: http://www.annfammed.org/content/15/6/570.full

Stokes J, Man M-S, Guthrie B, Mercer SW, Salisbury C, Bower P. The Foundations Framework for Developing and Reporting New Models of Care for Multimorbidity. The Annals of Family Medicine. 2017;15(6):570-7.

Patient safety and children with long-term health conditions

4 Sep

by Sue Kirk, Professor of Family and Child Health

Juvenile diabetes patient with his mother

Increasing numbers of children and young people are living with a long-term health condition such as diabetes or asthma. Over the past 20 years we have also seen more children with complex healthcare needs being cared for in their own home rather than in hospital.  These changes have led to parents (and the children themselves) taking on roles and responsibilities that would have been unthinkable in the past. This includes monitoring their individual health, managing their own medication and treatment, using complex medical equipment such as ventilators, acting as care coordinators, and in some cases organising and managing home care teams.

Parents and young people don’t only manage these health conditions within the relatively controlled environment of the home. Children and young people go to school and college, take part in social activities with their peers and families, go on holiday and may spend time in hospices and other care settings. They may also receive services from a vast array of health, social care and voluntary sector organisations. This presents challenges for communication, both between professionals and between families and professionals, and consequently for care integration. This is worsened as young people transfer to adult services.

Surprisingly there has been little research that has examined patient safety for this marginalised group. We don’t know how families or health care professionals understand, monitor and manage safety in this complex situation or how safety could be promoted and improved.  This is what we intend to look at as part of the Safety in Marginalised Groups: Patients and Carers theme of the Greater Manchester PSTRC.

Patient Safety: the way forward

8 Aug

by Stephen Campbell, Director of the NIHR Greater Manchester PSTRC

University campus

Seventy five percent of patient safety research is focused on hospitals. Less is known about patient safety outside hospitals, yet 85% of NHS contacts happen in these settings, mostly in general practice and in pharmacies. The scale of primary care in England is huge. There are 340 million general practice consultations annually, with 2% involving a patient safety incident, which means 6.8 million times each year where a patient is potentially at risk of harm. There are one billion prescriptions issued per year outside of hospitals, with 4.9% having an error – 49 million every year. And 20% of patients discharged from hospital will report an adverse event, which could lead to costly readmission to hospital. On 1 August 2012, the Greater Manchester Primary Care Patient Safety Translational Research Centre (Greater Manchester PSTRC) started, funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR).  Our PSTRC has been a groundbreaking centre as it was the first patient safety centre to focus on primary care (general practice, community pharmacies etc.) as well as the interfaces with hospital care. The focus on primary care was intentional and needed.

We have achieved many improvements in primary care safety over the last 5 years. For example, we have developed a “Safer Prescribing” e-learning course for GPs, which has reduced prescribing errors.  We have developed a Medication Safety Dashboard as a “missed opportunity detector” that has resulted in fewer patients being at risk of potentially hazardous prescribing. We have used mobile technology such as smartphone apps to deliver safer healthcare. As an example, ClinTouch monitors symptom change in people with serious mental illness. We have worked in partnership with patients, GPs and pharmacists to create a Patient Safety Guide for general practice.

I am a health services researcher who has focused on the quality and safety of primary care for 25 years. Over that time there have been many advances in improving quality and safety but equally people are living longer, often with several health conditions requiring care from many different sources, in a world that becomes ever more complex with new digital technologies and “intelligent healthcare communities”. Most research and advances in patient safety are typically found within single care settings, such as the emergency department. Less attention has been paid to safety between (transitional) community providers and hospital care settings. Delayed diagnosis, incomplete patient information and medication errors are examples of problems, which may occur both within settings and across an interface. That is why we shall focus on primary care but also on transitional care settings in our second period of 5-years of funding from the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR), which started on 1 August 2017.

Over the next 5 years, our research will focus on:

  • Safety Informatics – developing technologies and behaviours that create safer care systems and to prevent diagnostic errors – working with the Health e-Research Centre
  • Medication Safety –developing safety management systems to ensure safer prescribing and treatment and to prevent medication errors
  • Safer Care Systems and Transitions – a new theme, to make care safer for patients moving between care settings
  • Safety in Marginalised Groups – a new theme – to enable patients and carers to take control of their care. There will be a key focus on patients and carers as well as mental health, working with the Centre for Mental Health and Safety

Service responsibility and patient responsibility for patient safety go hand-in-hand. They are equal. A member of the public seeking healthcare as a patient for themselves or a loved-one deserves the safest and best quality care possible. That is the duty of healthcare providers and professionals. Avoiding errors, or identifying and correcting them, is a high priority. Equally, patients can do much to keep themselves safer in terms of accessing care appropriately, taking medications as prescribed, self-managing a healthy lifestyle with sensible eating and drinking as well as exercising etc. This is the responsibility of each member of the public. It is a shared responsibility that requires co-design and partnership working, which underpins everything we do.

A key aspect of our work, and something which I think is crucial to the PSTRC, is capacity building and training people to be able to conduct and apply research. This includes recruiting PhD students, helping a group of pharmacists to work together on research projects in their own pharmacies, and training researchers as well as members of the public and patients. Healthcare isn’t just about a medical procedure or treatment option, it is about people, both those who deliver the care and those who receive it or work in partnership together. The PSTRC aims to be an interactive research centre working with healthcare professionals, the NHS, local authorities, industry and patients, carers and members of the public to make healthcare safer.

Much is happening in Greater Manchester that gives us opportunities to make a real difference. We will work across Greater Manchester’s newly-integrated Health and Social Care Partnership which serves 3 million people. The Connected Health Cities programme across the north of England will help us get our research implemented. We will continue to work in partnership with colleagues at the University of Nottingham, especially in the research on safer transitions and medication safety. We look forward to new collaborations with colleagues at the Christie NHS Foundation Trust and Central Manchester NHS Foundation Trust. There is much we can do using new digital technologies and behavioural interventions to improve safety and healthcare for the benefit of patients.

I want to thank everyone who has been involved with the PSTRC over the last 5 years. I look forward to working with everyone in the new PSTRC to continue our exciting, innovative and important research. The PSTRC has many outstanding and world-leading researchers and an excellent core staff. There is much to do but we will continue to build the capacity to make care safer.

The PSTRC has a strong involvement and engagement agenda working alongside members of the public and patients as well as healthcare professionals. If you would like to find out more about our research and how you can get involved then please email Zarina Saeed at zarina.saeed@manchester.ac.uk .

 

Introducing…Safety in Marginalised Groups: Mental Health

5 Jul

by Nav Kapur and Roger Webb

shutterstock_640908130_mentalhealth

Safety in mental health services:  reducing suicide and self-harm

Nav Kapur, Research Lead, says:

‘It’s fantastic to be involved in the new NIHR Patient Safety Translational Research Centre.  It is particularly exciting that safety in mental health services will be a prominent part of the new work.  We are really looking forward to getting started.  We will be making new appointments (both Research Associates and funded PhD students) in order to make this a world-beating research programme.  The focus on both suicide and self-harm is really pertinent given the current policy and health priority on these very important outcomes.  So over the summer and autumn we will get going on the actual research using a variety of methods.  Personally I can’t wait to start working with the internationally-leading team of researchers, academics and clinicians across the PSTRC’.

Roger Webb, key project lead, says:

‘I’m enthused by this wonderful new initiative, which enables our Centre for Mental Health and Safety to join forces in working collaboratively with a much larger group of internationally renowned experts in the patient safety field. Our planned work programme, focussing on self-harm and suicide, encompasses a number of ground-breaking studies.

These studies include:

  • evaluating how changes to health service provision may impact on national suicide  rates
  • developing and testing psychological treatments following self-harm
  • investigating key transitions from institutional care to living back in the community, among discharged patients and released prisoners with enduring mental health problems
  • assessing clinical management of common mental health problems across healthcare sectors, and subsequent risks of self-harm, suicide and other causes of premature death.’

Introducing…Safer Care Transitions

1 Jun

by Justin Waring (University of Nottingham) and Harm van Marwijk (University of Manchester)

Safer Care Transitions will be one of the research themes in the NIHR PSTRC Greater Manchester which will run from 1 August 2017 until 31 July 2022.

Safer Care Transitions blog icon

Patient journeys are full of care transitions. By transitions, we mean that the responsibility for patient care is transferred or handed over from one team, department or organisation to another.

If we think about someone who experiences an accident at work, they might be seen at first by a paramedic before being transported by ambulance to their local hospital’s emergency department. There they might receive urgent care before being admitted into the hospital for follow-up care. When recovered, the patient will then be discharged home or to community setting where they could receive rehabilitation, nursing care, social care and follow-up treatments by their GP, under the primary medical responsibility of the GP.  The GPs’ medical records can follow most of such transitions and provide an overarching view, but others (patients) cannot access such data now. GPs would be seen to have an overarching responsibility to facilitate seamless management between settings but little work has been done on this.

Transitions are common to virtually all patient journeys, because healthcare services are provided by specialists and professionals who work in different clinics, surgeries and hospitals. Although there is now better understanding of what makes for safer care within each of these care settings, there is less of a clear picture about what makes for safer care transitions between these care settings, and how to develop problem-based records that capture transitions and are accessible to more than GP practices.

There is mounting evidence from around the world that care transitions are a high-risk stage in the patient journey. Research from the US, for example, suggests that as many as two out of every ten hospital discharges will experience some form of safety incident. These safety incidents take the form of incorrect medicines, missing equipment, or inappropriate care planning.  Research within the NHS suggests that it is often difficult to coordinate the involvement of different professionals and specialists because of common communication breakdowns and the difficulties of finding time to work together to identify solutions to common problems or work from a shared and validated record. A recent Healthwatch report highlighted the enormous suffering and anxiety experienced by patients as they approach hospital discharge, often because of the uncertainties about when they will go home, who will look after them, and how they will cope. Current resources constraints within the health and social care sectors have seemed to make these problems worse, with limits on the availability of social care to support safe hospital discharge.

The Patient Safety Translational Research Centre Greater Manchester is leading a programme of research that will develop new learning about what makes for safer care transitions. It will look to ways of working and technological breakthroughs in other sectors to learn lessons for the NHS. For example, many courier and supply chain services use advanced technologies to track their deliveries. There is also greater scope to empower patients to coordinate their own care through developing smart technologies that enable them to manage and share their own records with different healthcare professionals. There is also much healthcare services could learn from other industries about ensuring continuous accountability for care, so that someone is always there to speak up for and protect the safety of patients, and ways to develop such support for the most vulnerable trajectories such as around cancer and frail older people.

The projects developed in this theme will address the safety of care transitions in primary and secondary care, in mental health services, in chronic conditions, cancer care, and end of life care, to ensure learning and innovations are shared across the health and social care sectors.

Further information:

Healthwatch (2016) Safely Home, London: Healthwatch. http://www.healthwatch.co.uk/safely-home

Waring, J., Bishop, S., & Marshall, F. (2016). A qualitative study of professional and carer perceptions of the threats to safe hospital discharge for stroke and hip fracture patients in the English National Health Service. BMC health services research, 16(1), 297.

https://bmchealthservres.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12913-016-1568-2

Forster, A. J., Murff, H. J., Peterson, J. F., Gandhi, T. K., & Bates, D. W. (2003). The incidence and severity of adverse events affecting patients after discharge from the hospital. Annals of internal medicine, 138(3), 161-167.

The ‘triple aim’: a reality check

27 Jan

by Jonathan Stokes, Research Associate in the Centre for Health Economics at The University of Manchester

triple-aim_jstokes-blog_jan17

In December, I completed the final exam (or ‘viva’) for my PhD, which was funded by the NIHR Greater Manchester PSTRC. In the discussion section of my thesis, I presented an argument that my examiners suggested I should explore further, so I’m using this blog post to try and record some initial thoughts, which I hope to turn into an academic paper at some point (so feel free to post any feedback you have below).

So, my argument, briefly, was this:

  • Health systems are recognised to have a so-called ‘triple aim’, aiming to improve health and satisfaction of patients, while reducing costs. With the move towards ‘integrated care’, policymakers argue that integration can improve all triple-aim outcomes simultaneously.
  • In the NHS, integrated care is defined around the patient’s feeling of joined-up care (i.e. around the outcome of satisfaction). However, policymakers, when setting out the aims of their integrated care models aim primarily to reduce costs, usually by reducing emergency hospital admissions (probably unsurprising given the ‘NHS crisis’ currently being covered in the media).
  • But the literature tells us that the ‘triple aim’ goals are quite complexly interlinked, so achieving one does not necessarily have a beneficial effect on all of the others. For example, the highest patient satisfaction (good) is associated with the highest overall healthcare expenditure (bad), and may be also those experiencing worse health outcomes, e.g. a higher mortality rate (very bad).
  • Therefore, there is a potential conflict between the patient-level (the feeling of more joined up care for the patient) and system-level (reducing costs) goals of integrated care in the NHS, and potentially a need to prioritise aims.

Basically, there is little evidence that the ideal scenario of not having to pay for improvements in care quality is plausible (note: that doesn’t mean we can’t have this improvement, it just implies that we would need to invest more in our health system to get it). And, if we design interventions that address the NHS definition of integration and increase satisfaction with care, then we won’t necessarily meet the pressing system aims of reducing costs in the current NHS funding crisis.

So, to my mind, if we want to contain costs, this would mean that the patient satisfaction aim (while still important, and should continue to be measured) should be bumped down the priority. This is partly because people who are healthier tend to be more satisfied in any case (so it is partially a secondary outcome of better health and should take care of itself if people get better health outcomes), but also because in a tax-funded system like the NHS, where the overarching values are delivering equity and social justice, sustainability of the system is more important than preferences of the individual (i.e. ‘consumer-focused’ healthcare). Especially when aiming primarily for satisfaction of the individual harms the system.

To try and explain why this might be, imagine that if we’re primarily aiming to improve satisfaction with care, implementing an intervention where we gave everyone a dram of whisky as they waited for their appointment might send satisfaction rates through the roof, but it would cost a fortune and might not do people’s health a lot of good.

Healthcare is a complicated process (which is why it takes so long to train healthcare professionals, who in fact never stop receiving training during their working lives). One of the ‘market failures’ in healthcare (i.e. why a normal economic free-market system, where the consumer decides, doesn’t work) is ‘information asymmetry’ (i.e. the expert knows more than others, so can make the more informed decisions). While this asymmetry is clearly in patients’ favour in some aspects (e.g. experience of disease/ experience of using health services/ treatment burden etc.), it favours the physician/expert in others (e.g. treatment course in many cases/ health system setup or organisation/ cost of care etc.). The patient is therefore not likely to make the most informed decision when it comes to overall health system costs.

In view of this, I think there’s an interesting debate to be had about the role of ‘patient-centred’ care more widely, and how this fits with our system goals. For example, I went to a seminar the other day where an NHS Vanguard programme talked about how they were shifting their approach in patient care to one where they ask the patients to define their goals, asking them ‘What matters to you?’. But, before that, we’d had a talk from NHS England about the national metrics that the Vanguards would be assessed on, centred on system goals (again, primarily about reducing avoidable emergency hospital admissions). This got me thinking: what if the patient’s goal is something that doesn’t affect our system goals whatsoever, or is even completely contrary to these? If it was in the USA, the patients themselves (or their health insurer) would pay for the option and it wouldn’t matter so much, but in a tax-funded system there is more need to think resourcefully at this wider system level (and try being poor and getting decent healthcare in the USA if you think that’s the way to go instead).

The role of the patient in influencing/defining research priorities could be another debate. For example, the PSTRC and wider NIHR funders are very focused on Public and Patient Involvement (PPI) in research. But, what if the researcher (while employing common sense, and not purely as a stereotypical ivory-tower-type) has access to more knowledge about where the current knowledge gaps are, and which questions are possible to answer and how? Is it a good use of resources to pay for the ‘lay perspective’ in all cases (or at all)? (But, of course, this is just one simplified question in the debate of the role of PPI in influencing and defining research priorities, the balance of which I hope to explore further in a future post).

In sum, I think some of the assumptions we make (in good faith, I’m sure), about the aims and delivery of health services, and research to support these services, are still open to debate. While we dwell on ideally achieving all outcomes, we neglect the reality of the need for trade-offs and priority setting. But, I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts.