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A “Stoplight” Approach to Patient Safety

Prioritizing patient safety usually requires concentrated effort from entire medical caregiving systems–hospital administrators, doctors, nurses, aides, and all those involved in medical care. Many different individuals interact to provide services to patients, and ensuring that mistakes are avoided means that all those involved commit to doing everything in their power to prevent problems. As it now stands, we have a lot of work to do. Upwards of 200,000 patients die every year because of medical mistakes–many more are injured. This is a problem of large proportions.

But the fact that the problem is large does not mean that all possible solutions are complex. In fact, patient safety advocates repeatedly point out that lowering errors rates and saving lives can actually be accomplished with commitment to very simple changes. For example, even the act of washing hands consistently can prevent the spread of infection that claims many patient lives each year. Checklists can also prevent simple oversights and lapses in judgement which result in errors and take lives.

A recent story from Beckers ASC discusses one way that some facilities are trying to prioritize patient safety. The approach is known as the “Stoplight” method for its categorization of different patient safety concerns. Using the colors red, yellow, and green, the method labels each risky situation based on the ability of a team to address it.

How It Works
The process works with hospital executive conducting routine rounds (usually daily) to identify possible risks. Those risks are discussed with “front-line” workers and each is given a color label.

Green refers to those items that can be immediately fixed. For example, shortage of a certain supply can be re-stocked to eliminate the danger. Because employees can address the matter right away, the green signifies action.

Yellow refers to those issues that do not have an immediate solution. These require intermediary levels of action to fix. The article gives the example of communication problems between doctors. Developing a new communication system may take anywhere from three to six months to fix, but the outcome would minimize transfer problems and ensure doctors work together to maximize patient outcomes.

Red refers to patient safety risks that are far more difficult to address. The item used as an example is the big-picture issue of preventing readmissions. Solving this problem requires more comprehensive action. For example, it may require more substantial information technology systems to identify specific ways to lower readmissions. These problems might require much more time and infusion of capital to make it happen.

Patient Safety in Illinois
All methods that work to standardize patient safety and address risks quickly should be applauded. According to the article, this method is being used by Advocate Lutheran General Hospital in Park Ridge, Illinois. A representative for the firm noted that thus far it has been an easy and effective way to deal with various safety concerns. Most patient safety issues fall into the “green” and “yellow” categorizations, which means the tools are there to fix the problem. Hopefully this translates into better outcomes and safer Illinois medical patients.

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