The small things count when you talk about patient safety


In our relentless pursuit of efficiency and cost-effectiveness in health care, a fundamental principle of care has sometimes been relegated to the background: patient safety.

Patient safety must remain the top priority.

National health awareness holidays are designed to shine a spotlight on crucial topics, and among them, few are as vital as keeping people safe. The recently concluded Patient Safety Awareness Week stood as a significant opportunity to put patient safety back at the center of the health care conversation.

As a managed long-term care program, we provide vital support for elderly or disabled New York residents — ensuring their health and personal care needs are met in a way that allows them to live as independently and safely as possible when they can no longer perform everyday activities on their own.

A key part of keeping our members happy and healthy is our team-based approach in which care management teams are empowered to review each problem holistically in the search for innovative solutions. Patient safety is integrated into all aspects of our operation.

Oftentimes, we’ve found it’s the small things that can have huge impacts on improving a member’s health, independence and emotional well-being.

Here are a few examples of how the little things count.

Take the case of a younger member with a traumatic brain injury. Self-care was important to him, and he didn’t want to be sponge-bathed. But his wife was beginning to experience caregiver burnout and had trouble finding the right shower chair.

We dispatched a team member to his home, who assessed the situation and selected the best model chair for his unique situation and his functional ability.

Now he’s showering with assistance, which has become a part of his daily routine that he looks forward to. His disposition has changed, and he’s retained a sense of independence.

Another of our members who uses a wheelchair chronically complained of back pain. Therapy and other techniques could not solve the issue. When our care management team examined her wheelchair, they found it was ill-fitting, too high, and she was at the risk of sliding off.

Now, with a new lightweight chair with customized cushions, the member can get out more, and her quality of life has dramatically improved.

In another case, a member kept waking up at night and wandering around, putting her at risk of falling. After visiting her apartment, we determined that the noise from the all-night bodega downstairs was jolting her awake.

A white noise machine provided by our team kept her from waking up, and ultimately, helped keep her safe.

Three different patients, three different outcomes. But the same holistic and detail-oriented approach, and a set of practices that we think is worth highlighting during National Patient Safety Awareness Week and sharing with others.

It’s important to note that patient safety is not the sole responsibility of health care professionals, but also requires collaboration between patients and their families, who should be empowered to ask questions, understand their treatment plans, and act as advocates.

As we continue from Patient Safety Awareness Week, let us reaffirm our commitment to this critical cause. Patient safety must serve as the bedrock principle guiding discussions in the health care space, informing the delivery of services, and shaping the decisions made by health care providers.

After all, sometimes the smallest things make the biggest difference.


The author is senior vice president of clinical operations at RiverSpring Health Plans

Patient safety Healthcare efficiency National Patient Safety Awareness Week Holistic care approach Healthcare collaboration Care management teams Elderly care Disability support Chronic conditions management Quality of life improvements