Federal Government Awards Georgia Partnership $4.9 Million Patient Safety Grant

Barbara Christopher
Industrial and Systems Engineering
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ATLANTA -- The Georgia Hospital Association (GHA), the chief sponsor of the Georgia Partnership for Health and Accountability (PHA), was recently awarded a three-year, $4.9 million grant by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) as part of nationwide effort to reduce medical errors and improve patient safety. GHA, which represents 185 hospitals and health systems in Georgia, was one of 94 recipients selected by AHRQ, a division of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), to participate in the federal government's new $50 million patient safety initiative.

"Since we began the Partnership for Health and Accountability two years ago, Georgia hospitals and health systems have been on the cutting edge of patient safety efforts," said GHA President Joseph A. Parker. "This grant will evaluate the effectiveness of PHA and help take the program to the next level ensuring that great hospital care in Georgia will only get better."

In 1999, the Institute for Medicine released a report that concluded that anywhere from 44,000 to 98,000 Americans die annually as a direct result of medical errors. The report opened extensive national dialogue on patient safety and served as the impetus for the federal government's investment in the issue.

"Nothing could be more important than making sure patients receive quality care that doesn't cause unintended harm, and our investment in this kind of research will pay off in terms of improved patient safety for all Americans," HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson said.

In July, PHA, which includes consumers, physicians, hospital executives, other health care providers, insurers, quality improvement experts and state health officials, launched a voluntary, first-of-its kind accountability and patient safety program in which hospitals in Georgia submit various data related to medical errors and patient safety to a newly-established peer review organization created by the PHA. The data is then used to support hospitals in common areas for improvement. PHA provides safety alerts and other reports that promote the use of clinical practices proven to reduce risk and create optimal patient outcomes.

What makes the program especially unique, and promises to be a key area of investigation for AHRQ, is the nonpunitive environment that has been established in Georgia for medical error data collection. Jeff Etchason, M.D., president of the Atlanta-based Kerr L. White Institute for Health Services Research and selected by GHA to be the principal investigator of the project, will lead a team of investigators in closely examining the differences between a peer review-protected system like PHA's and one in which medical error collection is both mandated and publicly accessible. The investigative team assembled consists of representatives from several of the state's academic institutions including Georgia Tech, Morehouse School of Medicine, the Medical College of Georgia, Emory University and the University of Georgia College of Pharmacy.

According to Etchason, the national project will attempt to answer the questions posed by many lawmakers recently: Is it better to have a learning environment that is protected? Or is the fear of being required to report and be publicly identified a greater motivator to improve hospital safety?

"At this point, nobody really knows, so we need to have independent evaluations," Etchason said. During the project and upon its completion, a national steering committee established by AHRQ, consisting of principle investigators from the various grants, will review and compare patient safety systems throughout the country. The findings of the committee will then allow lawmakers at both the state and federal levels to ultimately determine what measures are necessary to further enhance patient safety.

"Instead of just having administrative and bureaucratic decisions based on little or no information or on vested political interests, the AHRQ patient safety demonstration projects will be attempting to generate some objective data," Etchason explained. "We will evaluate, compare and then provide the necessary information that will allow policy makers to decide what, if any, regulatory or legislative actions are necessary to help prevent medical errors."

The Georgia Tech School of Industrial and Systems Engineering will play a key role in the project examining human factors and the role of technology in a medical error collection system and ensuring that the technology used by PHA in collecting and processing the data is both efficient and accurate. According to Augustine Esogbue, Ph.D., professor and director of the Intelligent Systems and Controls Laboratory at the school and coordinator of the Georgia Tech team, the real strength of the GHA project rests in the diversity of its participants.

"This is the first time that all concerned groups -- hospitals, physicians, analysts and technologists, have been brought together like this with a common agenda," said Esogbue. "There's something to be gained by learning from the kinds of processes that have been profitably utilized in industrial settings and areas like aerospace and manufacturing where technology was appropriately injected to improve safety while containing system costs."

Whatever technology the project utilizes, Esogbue is confident that the ultimate winners in the study will not be just health care providers, but most important, patients in Georgia hospitals.

"It'll give the average citizen increased faith in the system," he said.

Etchason agreed, adding that the end result of the national effort by AHRQ should ultimately lead to safer hospital care.

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  • Created By: Barbara Christopher
  • Workflow Status: Published
  • Created On: Oct 30, 2001 - 8:00pm
  • Last Updated: Oct 7, 2016 - 11:06pm