The Economics of Patient Safety: Adopting a Value-based Approach

By John Tingle

The OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) have recently published a report on the economics of patient safety.The report is in two main sections, section 1, the cost of failure and section 2, reducing harm effectively and efficiently.

Section 1 focuses on a review of the literature in the area. The reports begins by making the point that health care has always been and continues to be, a risk-laden activity:

“While modern medical sciences can certainly do more, the risks of complication, error and harm are commensurately greater.” (p.9)

The report states that adverse health care events can happen at any point of the patient’s journey and can vary between care settings. Similar causative factors can be attributed to most types of harm.On the world patient safety stage, the report states that despite global efforts to reduce the burden of patient harm in developing countries, the situation does not appear to have changed over the past 15 years. WHO data is cited from 2000 which indicates that two –thirds of all adverse events occurred in low-and middle income countries. The risk of patient death as a result of an adverse event appears to be much higher in developing countries with some estimates suggesting that as many as one in three adverse events result in the patient’s death. The report does suggest some ways forward in avoiding adverse health care events in developing countries. Read More

Loneliness as epidemic

By Wendy S. Salkin

Just a few weeks ago, The New York Times ran an article confirming that, indeed, we are facing an epidemic of loneliness. There is “mounting evidence” that links loneliness to illness, as well as “functional and cognitive decline.” What’s more, loneliness turns out to be a better predictor of early death than obesity.

Neuroscientist John Cacioppo, who has spent much of his career working on loneliness, defines “loneliness” as “perceived social isolation.” Similarly, Masi, et al. (following Russell, et al. 1980) define “loneliness” as “the discrepancy between a person’s desired and actual social relationships.” As Masi, et al., point out, there is a distinction to be made between loneliness, on the one hand, and social isolation, on the other, although the two phenomena may indeed often go together. Whereas social isolation “reflects an objective measure of social interactions and relationships,” loneliness “reflects perceived social isolation or outcast.” Following Peplau & Perlman 1982 and Wheeler, et al. 1983, they go on to point out that “loneliness is more closely associated with the quality than the number of relationships.” (It’s important and timely to note that the 2016 Nobel Laureate in Literature, Bob Dylan, brought out one application of this conceptual distinction in his song, “Marchin’ to the City,” when he sang: “Loneliness got a mind of its own / The more people around the more you feel alone.”)

The health risks posed by loneliness are several and can be severe. Loneliness can contribute to increased risk of coronary heart disease, cardiovascular disease, and stroke. In a 2016 systematic review and meta-analysis in Heart, Valtorta, et al., reported that “poor social relationships were associated with a 29% increase in risk of incident CHD [coronary heart disease] and a 32% increase in risk of stroke.” And in a March 2015 meta-analysis in Perspectives on Psychological Science, Holt-Lunstad, et al., reported that a substantial body of evidence supports the following two claims:

  1. Loneliness puts one at greater risk for premature mortality. In particular, “the increased likelihood of death was 26% for reported loneliness, 29% for social isolation, and 32% for living alone.”
  2. The heightened risk for mortality due to “a lack of social relationships” (whether reported loneliness, social isolation, or living alone) is greater than the risk due to obesity.

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The vexed problem of properly discharging elderly patients from hospital back into the community

By John Tingle

The National Health Service (NHS) just does not seem to be able to deal properly with discharging elderly patients from hospital back into the community. There have been major issues in this area going back decades. Stories in the media and official reports regularly appear about ‘bed blocking’ by elderly patients or hospitals discharging them back into the community without proper care arrangements being made.

There is a real fear that the NHS will never be able to turn things around here and that the lessons of the past are not being learnt .There are seemingly intractable problems being faced by trusts, social services and others in doing a proper job with elderly patient discharge.The high financial cost to the NHS of keeping well elderly patients in hospital has also been widely discussed.

Hospitals and social services have faced a barrage of criticism of failing to have coordinated care policies and arrangements leading in some cases to deaths of patients.
Two reports have been published recently which show that patient safety is being seriously compromised in this area. Read More

Brexit: I woke up this morning and the world had changed

By John Tingle

I voted in the referendum yesterday along with many others. The referendum turnout was 71.8%, with more than 30 million people voting. It was the highest turnout in a UK-wide vote since the 1992 general election.

My area, Broxtowe in Nottingham where I live, voted to leave the EU, 54.6%, 35754 votes, remain 45.4% 29672 votes. I live in the East Midlands, Middle England. Deep regional divisions have been laid bare by this referendum. It was notable that London largely voted to stay in the EU whereas in my region there was a notable push to leave, 58.5%.The  referendum result shows British politics has, according to the Guardian newspaper, fractured beyond all recognition since the last referendum on Europe in 1975.

The issues around EU membership have been hotly debated and there was a high level of public interest in what went on. Immigration has been the dominant theme in many areas and health along with a number of other issues has also come up. At this moment we are in a post referendum, after shock stage and picking through the fallout to see what is happening and what is going to happen. People are happy, sad and anxious over the result.It was not that long after the vote was announced by the BBC that our Prime Minister David Cameron said he was going to stand down in October, that was a lot to take in so soon after the result. Looking at some of the posts on Facebook it is striking how many young people feel a sense of betrayal by the vote to leave the EU. Many seem to harbour a deep sense of resentment that they have been robbed of a future by an elder generation, it’s the baby boomers against the millennials. Read More

Intelligent Transparency and Patient Safety: New UK Government Patient Safety Plans Launched

By John Tingle

One thing is clear when commentating on patient safety developments in the UK is that there is hardly ever a dull moment or a lapse of activity in patient safety policy development .Something always appears to be happening somewhere and it’s generally a very significant something. Things are happening at a pace with patient safety here.

On the 3rd March 2016 the Secretary of State for Health,The Rt Honourable Jeremy Hunt announced a major change to the patient safety infrastructure in the NHS with the setting  up from the 1st April 2016 of the independent Healthcare Safety Investigation Branch. In a speech in London to the Global Patient Safety Summit on improving standards in healthcare he also reflected on current patient safety initiatives.This new organisation has been modelled on the Air Accident Investigation Branch which has operated successfully in the airline industry. It will undertake, ‘timely, no-blame investigations’.

The Aviation and Health Industries
The airline industry has provided some very useful thinking in patient safety policy development when the literature on patient safety in the UK is considered. The way the airline industry changed its culture regarding accidents is mentioned by the Secretary of State in glowing terms. Pilots attending training programmes with engineers and flight attendants discussing communications and teamwork. There was a dramatic and immediate reduction in aviation fatalities which he wants to see happening now in the NHS. Read More

In Flint, Echoes of DC Lead Crisis

By Dalia Deak

The public health crisis in Flint, MI is a long way from resolved. The short-term public health effects have been staggering, a state of emergency has been declared in the city, uncertainty looms in the long-term, and the city, state, and federal government have a serious trust issue on their hands.

Last April, the city of Flint changed its water source from Lake Huron to the Flint River in an effort to reduce mounting financial pressure on the city. However, the new water source corroded the city’s old pipes, leaching lead into the water. Adding insult to injury,
when residents complained about the taste, smell, and appearance, or attributed rashes and other medical conditions to the water source, city officials told residents that they were continually monitoring the levels to ensure that they were safe (a claim which has been called into question). Despite concern over the quality of the water dating back almost immediately after the switch, a state of emergency was declared when parents started bringing children in to the pediatrician for concerns about delayed development. When researchers at Hurley Medical Center looked into the issue, they found that the proportion of infants and children with above-average lead levels close to doubled after the switch. Residents filed a class-action lawsuit against the Governor, the state, the city, and 13 public officials in November for damages from the high levels of lead in the water, claiming that their 14th amendment right was violated when the city took away their safe drinking water and replaced it with a cheaper, more dangerous alternative.

Read More

DCIS Study Amplifies Questions and Demand for Answers

By Dalia Deak

This week, a JAMA Oncology article made a splash when it intensified discussion around what ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS) should be considered – cancer, precursor, or risk factor – and whether current treatment approaches have been effective. The New York Times, The Guardian, and others have picked up the story, and readers have reacted extensively, only amplifying a demand for answers to questions raised.

Often called Stage 0 breast cancer, DCIS is considered to be abnormal cells that are confined inside the milk ducts and, as such, are not considered invasive. Because of the increased risk associated with DCIS, many women who are found to have DCIS (a growing number considering the frequency of and improvements in mammography) undergo lumpectomies or mastectomies often accompanied by radiation therapy. Read More

Bureaucracy Can Save Lives – The Legacy of Dr. Frances Kelsey

By Robert Field

What adjective would most people associate with the word “bureaucrat”? For many, it would be “inefficient,” “inept,” or “incompetent.” But another that is just as descriptive is “lifesaving.”

Dr. Frances Kelsey, who died this month at the age of 101, was celebrated as an American hero for her work as a medical officer at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). She saved thousands of lives and prevented untold suffering by using techniques that earn bureaucrats a bad name, delay and obstruction, to keep the drug thalidomide from reaching the market in the United States in 1961.

Thalidomide is a sedative that had been approved for sale in Europe four years earlier and was prescribed for morning sickness during pregnancy. The American manufacturer, Richardson-Merrell, saw a large potential market in the United States. However, Dr. Kelsey, who was assigned to review its application for marketing approval, was troubled by questionable safety data. The law in effect in 1961 required that she issue a decision within 60 days, but she was able to buy more time by asking for additional information.

Read More

Making Connections & Collaborating for the Future of Public Health

As part of the Public Health Law Research program’s participation in National Public Health Week 2015, we have been sharing materials and resources under the daily themes. Today’s theme, Building Broader Connections, is about expanding partnerships and making connections to benefit public health.

We spoke with Laura Hitchcock, JD, Policy Research & Development Specialist for Public Health – Seattle & King County and the King County Executive/Department of Executive Services Partnerships Initiative Lead. We asked her to offer some insight from her work as a lawyer and researcher in a public health department.

PHLR: What role can researchers play in building partnerships with health departments and contributing to the policy-making discussion?

Laura Hitchcock, JD
Laura Hitchcock, JD

LH: Public health researchers can help to support development and refinement of evidence-based policies. Because policies are created in a political process, it is important for public health departments to continue to offer their scientific knowledge to support creation of effective policies, including repeal of ineffective policies or refinement of existing policies to better result in a healthy population by 2030. Health departments may need help to define local or state-focused areas for policy evaluation by working together with researchers, and should contribute to development of research agendas by identifying areas where policy makers, communities, medical professionals and others have concerns about the public’s health, and are likely to need support from researchers to know how to ‘plug in’ to research agenda development. Read More

THIS WEEK (3/18 – 3/20): Families Matter: Ethically, Legally, and Clinically

Families Matter: Ethically, Legally, and Clinically

child_pediatrician_slide_270_200_85_c1March 18 – 20, 2015

Harvard Medical School
Joseph B. Martin Conference Center
77 Avenue Louis Pasteur
Boston, MA 02115

A full agenda is available on our website.

We often talk, in bioethics, about individual autonomy.  Yet our most challenging ethical, legal and clinical controversies in health care often center around family roles and responsibilities: How should we handle parents’ refusals of medically recommended treatment or, conversely, parents’ requests to medicate or surgically alter their children?  What should be known, and by whom, about a child’s genome, especially when genetic information effects other family members?  What weight should be given to family interests in decisions about a child’s health care?  How should we think about 3-parent embryos? Gamete donors? Gestational mothers? What rights and responsibilities should fathers have with regard to decisions about abortion and adoption, for example, as well as health care decisions for their offspring?  Health care decisions might be messier, but maybe they would also be better if we gave more attention to family matters, and how families matter.

This multidisciplinary program has been developed to inform and deliberate with ethicists, health care providers, attorneys and the public about changes in conceptions of the family and medical technologies and practices that challenge moral conventions and contemporary law.  Faculty experts and participants will engage in thoughtful discussion regarding a broad range of ethical and legal issues that arise from new ways of creating and new ways of understanding families and providing health care for expectant parents, growing fetuses, infants, children, adolescents….and their families.

Co-sponsored with the Center for Bioethics at Harvard Medical School, with support from the Oswald DeN. Cammann Fund.