Imagine your daughter goes into the hospital to have a swollen ankle drained, but is mistakenly and fatally overdosed on pain medication. Or your husband goes in for a routine surgery, but acquires a deadly infection resulting from unwashed hands. 

To err is human

Because they are seemingly arbitrary, many people shrug off tragic stories like these as “one in a million.” But the reality is that a staggering 200,000 patients die each year from preventable causes in America’s hospitals. Put into context, preventable hospital fatalities represent the third largest cause of death in the U.S. — more than breast, lung and prostate cancers combined.

These deaths are not random, and the Patient Safety Movement is aiming to eliminate them by 2020. It’s an aggressive goal, and the organization recently held the second annual Patient Safety, Science and Technology Summit in an effort to fulfill it.

A step forward

The summit was organized by healthcare industry innovator and Patient Safety Movement founder Joe Kiani, who recognized the necessity of a united industry. The 2013 event provided a forum for leaders to come together and share information, opinions and experiences on issues like transparency and data sharing.

Building on the success of last year’s summit, this year’s event brought together political and industry leaders, including Senator Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), former U.S. Surgeon General Richard H. Carmona, World Health Organization Envoy for Patient Safety Sir Liam Donaldson and former President Bill Clinton.

Credit: Patient Safety Movement

In Mr. Clinton’s keynote address, he underscored the urgency behind the Patient Safety Movement in terms of saving lives, as well as reducing costs associated with readmitting patients who get sicker in the hospital. “I think it's improving the quality of care, making fewer mistakes and having to undo less.”

When asked why he supported the movement, Clinton said, “You stood up and said you wanted to save 200,000 lives and were convinced you could do it. You had what I believe is the only way to do anything like this; you were going to get all these people involved.”

 "It's improving the quality of care, making fewer mistakes and having to undo less.”

During the two-day event, attendees worked to develop new Actionable Patient Safety Solutions (APSS) for three specific challenges that cause more than 100,000 deaths annually: healthcare-associated infections, a culture of safety and hand-off communications.

Setting goals

In addition, attendees from all segments of the industry committed to the “Zero by 2020” goal. More than 60 hospitals and healthcare systems publicly promised to implement safety solutions to help save lives, and 20 medical technology companies pledged to make their devices interoperable so that collected data is accessible for patients and clinicians.

The summit and these pledges are an important step toward a unified industry and better patient care. They are an important step toward eliminating hundreds of thousands of preventable deaths that feel anything but arbitrary to affected families.