Dr. Richard Carmona, the 17th Surgeon General of the United States, says patient safety is a top priority.

Safety is a top priority for the medical profession. That’s why the 17th Surgeon General of the United States, Dr. Richard Carmona, MPH, FACS, says the goal is “to zero-out errors by 2020.”

Dr. Carmona, also a distinguished professor of Public Health at the University of Arizona, says as awareness and technology are improving, “there’s a lot we can do to make it a safer environment for patients.”

Safety challenges

Challenges with safety, including medication errors, wrong procedures and a lack of communication are all factors in injuries and deaths that might otherwise be prevented.

“We have to be much better at communicating our intentions to the patient and ensuring that they understand what we communicate.”

“It’s incumbent upon all of us to be able to address safety issues to ensure that all our patients are in the safest environment when they’re receiving care,” says Dr. Carmona, who stresses the importance of patients understanding their diagnosis, treatment and follow up.

“We have to be much better at communicating our intentions to the patient and ensuring that they understand what we communicate,” he says.

Open communication between patients and their doctors is essential.

“Armed with knowledge, the patient can ask the appropriate questions and reduce their risk of injury or bad outcomes by asking the right questions and making sure they understand the intentions of their practitioners,” says Dr. Carmona.

Telehealth

These days, patients are tracking their health stats, like blood pressure and temperature, online and using smart phones to message their doctors. It’s all part of telehealth and it’s here to stay.

“Technology is becoming more important, not only in the hospital and the office, but keeping the health community connected with its citizens, who we call patients,” says Dr. Carmona.

This technology promotes health awareness in patients and can help doctors monitor patients remotely.

Lesson learned

While the recent Ebola crisis was scary, it was also a valuable learning opportunity about safety for the medical profession.

“The information we learned from the Ebola crisis was extraordinary as far as making our system stronger, better, more robust,” says Dr. Carmona.

Some of the lessons include: understanding the need for accurate information for patients and the public; learning how to safely put on and take off protective gear; and studying how to move patients within and between medical facilities, with a concern about spreading infection.

“It’s not just about Ebola being a germ, it’s about the whole holistic approach to emerging infection and how we protect individuals in society,” says Dr. Carmona.