Every time a laptop stuffed with patient information gets stolen from the back seat of a hospital staffer’s car, we flinch. Every time a drug-dosing error harms a patient, we shudder. Most recently, we have been cringing at the early breakdowns in infection control surrounding Ebola.
When viewed from afar, these kinds of incidents seem like the results of a stupid mistake, a brief lapse, even laziness. And for those with unsullied track records, it’s easy to say our employees know the rules about storing data on their laptops, our nurses and pharmacists do the required double- and triple-checking before delivering medication, our emergency department springs into action at the first signs of an infectious virus never before diagnosed on U.S. soil.
But do they? Will they? If anything, these breakdowns reveal the precarious position every hospital occupies when it comes to safeguarding patients, staff and information. There but for the grace of God-type positions, really, given that they are run and staffed by well-intentioned yet fallible humans.
Following procedures is hard. Even in the sacred work of caring for patients, crossing items off a checklist or confirming certain details can feel onerous, unnecessary or inconvenient. Even among the very best caregivers.
It’s time for boards to lead a return to protocol, a revival of policies and procedures. Boards must confirm that these safeguards exist, and ensure that clinicians and staff understand them and have the resources to carry them out. Boards must stay on top of the data, ask questions and hold leaders accountable. And boards must promise the community that every patient will receive the best care at the hospital, because in addition to skilled caregivers, there are checklists and systems to back them up. T