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Transformers: When finders become fixers

Way back when (and it was way longer ago than I might have thought—time flies when you’re having fun), we first discussed the idea of finders and fixers in the healthcare world (go here for a refresh on that conversation). Since then, I have proselytized that fairly simple concept in a majority of my consulting work, but I recently had kind of a breakthrough that I wanted to throw out there for your consideration.

One of my personal primary directives when I am consulting is that if I find something that I can resolve on my own, I feel it is my obligation to fix it. So you may see me doing something as simple as picking up trash as I walk along (even outside) or wiping up a spill in a refrigerator—basically conditions that one could consider “quick” fixes. I started thinking about how we could kind of take things to the “next” level in the evolution of the finder and fixer equation. And I came up with a hybrid creation of finder/fixers; wouldn’t that be a pretty nifty way of managing minor conditions and deficiencies in the environment? Folks at the point of care/point of service that are so empowered that they, as a matter of course, would just resolve the issue on their own. I think that would be pretty cool.

Part of me thinks that the finder/fixer thing might be a little bit of a bridge too far, but maybe just imagining such a world might make it a little more possible. So: do you have any finder/fixers in your organization? And if you do, did you “grow” them or did they emerge fully-formed? I’m really trying to spread this accountability for managing the environment as far as I can and any data/information can only help.

Tiptap through the tulips

In what has turned out to be one of the busier periods when it comes to changes in regulatory oversight of the physical environment, we have George Mills, senior engineer at The Joint Commission, announcing a considerable shift relative to the use of power strips/relocatable power taps with medical equipment in patient care areas. According to the press release from the Association for the Advancement of Medical Instrumentation (AAMI)’s 2014 annual conference (at which Mr. Mills was a featured speaker), we should consider the following areas as being included in “patient care areas”: operating rooms, patient rooms, and “areas devoted to recovery, exams, and diagnostic procedures.” That looks like a pretty inclusive list from where I’m sitting. What say you? BTW, if you want to see the whole press release, you can find it courtesy of the AAMI.

At any rate, from wherever you’re sitting, this is going to be a pretty big freaking deal for way more organizations than not. All that said, at least at the moment (as of June 13, 2014), I’ve not seen anything in writing from CMS (generally, when a change of this magnitude comes down the pike, they’ll send out a letter to inform their surveyors how to enforce new requirements); my hope is that perhaps things will have smoothed out a bit when that missive arrives.

A couple other items from the AAMI conference include the announcement that CMS has made the determination that ultrasound equipment is considered radiologic equipment and can’t be included in any alternative equipment management program. The long and short of that is that ultrasound devices will have to be inspected, tested, and maintained in accordance with manufacturer recommendations. Not sure how many folks have strayed from that path, but if you have, you need to stray back.

The final bit of word from the conference (and feel free to make your own determination as to whether its good news or bad news) is that, effective July 1, 2014, all hospitals that use TJC for accreditation must maintain a written inventory of all medical equipment and identify “high-risk” medical equipment, which would include (as you would probably be able to guess), but is not limited to, life support equipment. And by way if revisiting the whole alternative equipment management program concept, if you are indeed managing any of the equipment in your inventory through the graces of an alternative equipment management program, then those devices must be identified as such. As we’ve seen in the past, requirements for written information/documentation can result in a fair amount of scrutiny, so I think we can expect the same thing to happen with these changes.

Is this evidence of a refocusing of the survey process on all things medical equipment (don’t forget to keep clinical alarm safety on the front burner too!) during the survey process? Tough to say, but past practices would seem to indicate perhaps, yes. Beyond that, only time will tell…

When things really start to add up (and not in a particularly nice way…)

Our continuing coverage of the survey wars brings us to the June 4 edition of Joint Commission Online in which it was revealed that we can anticipate that Joint Commission survey reports are going to be bulking up over the next little while (you can determined whether that bulk is the result of banned substances). This “bulk” is being introduced as TJC strives ever harder towards alignment with the requirements (and expectations) of the folks at CMS, and I’m all a-tingle—not!

Henceforth (kind of makes it sound almost biblical), TJC will be adding a section to every survey report that will be entitled Opportunities for Improvement or OFI (to differentiate OFIs from PFIs and RFIs and any other FIs that might be swirling around the compliance world). The OFI section is going to be reserved for all those pesky little single instances of non-compliance that fall under “C” performance elements (you will no doubt recall that “A” performance elements are already balanced on a single instance of non-compliance—you either have it or you don’t. And if you don’t…).

In current survey practice, “C” performance elements, to generate an RFI, require the survey team to identify at least two instances of non-compliance. For example, during the facility tour, the LS surveyor finds a single door that does not close and latch properly. In the past, that finding would be absent from the final report, but now it will reside in the OFI section of the report. The good news here is that you will not have to submit an Evidence of Standards Compliance (ESC) for the items in the OFI section, you just have to fix them. Also, any open PFIs from previous surveys or PFIs approved by the surveyor during the survey visit will also be enumerated in the survey report. You’ll still be resolving them via the normal process, within six months of the projected completion date, etc., so that piece of it doesn’t change. I guess it’s just a means of keeping open PFIs on everyone’s radar (the likelihood of this being an offshoot of the number of overdue PFIs found in recent TJC review of eSOCs is anybody’s guess, but I’m betting… yeah, pretty much) I suppose another by-product of this “highlighting” of open PFIs is added impetus to make sure that you get things resolved prior to your triennial survey, but it is certainly not a requirement. You just have to adhere to your committed completion dates.

All that said, clearly we’ll be dealing with more “findings” on the report, which presumably means that TJC will have more evidence for CMS that it really is looking carefully at compliance issues and that it is identifying deficiencies during the survey process. I do believe that everyone in the process—the regulators and the regulated—are committed to providing safe quality care to the patients, but I guess how that care is going to be delivered is subject to interpretation. Same as it ever was…

Wait ’til your father gets home…

Well, it would seem that there are any number of folks out there in the safety world who are not familiar with the expectations relating to the timely completion of PFIs and now The Joint Commission has decided that they need to use a bigger stick (bigger than a finding of Conditional Accreditation) to garner the attentions of the miscreants who have PFIs that are more than six months past their projected completion date and have not requested an extension.

So according to information on The Joint Commission website on May 30, notifications addressed to the organization’s primary accreditation contact and the facilities director have gone out to all organizations with overdue PFIs. And not to put too fine a point on things, if the overdue PFIs have not been resolved or an extension requested, a second notification to those same folks will go out on June 12, with the addition of each organization’s CEO.

If I’m doing my math correctly, those of you who were in the penalty box as of May 30 have just about a week to either resolve the deficiency or request an extension—or have a little face time with your CEO (I’m thinking that third curtain is probably the one you’d want to avoid). A third notification is scheduled to go out on June 23, if the first two messages weren’t sufficiently impactful. And if that still isn’t enough, there’ll be an opportunity for some phone time with one of the engineers from the Standards Interpretation Group (SIG), with which further recalcitrance will be rewarded with an on-site visit. I’m getting goose bumps just thinking about it.

Now, I know that sometimes things can get a little hectic as we do battle against the forces of evil, but this is one priority that’s going to have stay way up on the list (BTW: Going forward, any PFIs that go more than six months past the projected completion date will generate an automatic notification to the engineering folks in Chicago). And thus, I encourage you to do a couple of things:

  • If you have an open PFI that has gone more than six months past the projected completion date (and that means you got a notification), either resolve the issue or request an extension
  • Be very judicious in identifying projected completion dates for future PFIs. Make sure you give yourself enough time to resolve the deficiency; if you have to build in some time for the vagaries of the budgeting process, then please do so (and don’t forget to assess for ILSM implementation—a most important thing to remember). It is possible that you might be “challenged” during a survey relative to the completion timeframe, so you need to be thoughtful (for example, giving yourself 10 years to replace a door is probably a scenario that will raise some eyebrows) about how you allocated time. But as long as you are “honest” in your ILSM assessment, you will be able to demonstrate that you are appropriately managing the risks associated with the deficiency—for as long as it takes to resolve the deficiency.

I might like you better…never say never!

One of the things I frequently share with folks when I’m doing client engagements is that (at least when I, or they, are doing the looking) it is a very good thing to find things: deficiencies, inconsistent practices, etc. My experience has been that the folks in the field will tell you that (insert deficiency/practice here) could “never happen,” and my experience has also been that pretty much everything happens eventually (never being a very, very long time, indeed). You can have the best systems, processes, education, staff that ever has been, but, inevitably, something within those systems, processes, education, staff, will break down or otherwise not quite make the mark. I guess the management of safety and risk in the physical environment boils down to the management of imperfections. Other than certain things in nature (Old Faithful, the sun), the list of things that work perfectly every time is pretty short and I suspect that there’s nothing on the perfect list that is wrought by human hands.

At any rate, I think the underlying subtext is to take full advantage of as many opportunities to poke around as you can make available. The Joint Commission requires surveillance rounds at a set frequency (twice per year in patient areas, at least once everywhere else), but that has to be considered the baseline. The more often you can look, the greater your chances of finding something you’ve not seen before (and presumably had been told could “never happen”). People make mistakes all the time. It is, after all, the nature of humans.

Mounting hooks upon which physicians might hang their white coats

Touching back with the topic of healthcare worker attire increasing the potential for cross-transmission of bacteria during the working day, one of the recommendations that the Society for Healthcare Epidemiology of America (SHEA) made in its Healthcare Personnel Attire in Non-Operating-Room Settings guidance document is in regards to the continued use of white coats for professional appearances (I suspect it may be a while before the culture shifts sufficiently away from the vision of the kindly physician in the white coat). And that recommendation may very well set some teeth grinding for hospital facilities folks: “Facilities should provide coat hooks for clinicians to hang their coats up before patient contact.”

Coat hooks… isn’t that grand!?! Now I suspect that many, if not most of you, can recall those heady days when hand sanitizer dispensers first graced our facilities and how easy it was (and that little phrase can’t drip with enough irony) to figure out where those little buggers should be installed. I suspect that we’re looking at a similar cluster of decisions if this recommendation gains traction. When I first read this recommendation, I conjured up this image of a hospital corridor with rows of white coats hanging outside the patient rooms. In the Boston vernacular, that would look “pissah!” I don’t think you’ll be able to install the hooks in the room, because what would you do if it’s a precaution patient? I’m getting heartburn just thinking about it. Those of you with alcove spaces outside of your patient rooms should be okay (and may already have provisions for this), but, as we know, alcoves don’t generate a heck of a lot of revenue and so are frequently abandoned during design phases. No doubt the “hospital of the future” will have accommodations for this, but the “hospital of the now” might not be so fortunate.

Shirts and skins

In a recent edition of Infection Control and Hospital Epidemiology, the Society for Healthcare Epidemiology for America (SHEA) published an expert guidance document exploring the effect healthcare worker clothing has in the cross-transmission of pathogens. The document, titled Healthcare Personnel Attire in Non-Operating-Room Settings uses existing medical literature, perceptions of healthcare worker attire from patients and clinicians, evidence for contamination of attire and potential cross-contamination, hospitals policies and some survey information from SHEA members, with the intent being to learn about how clinicians balance their professional appearance and traditional attire with the prevention of pathogen transmission. The long and short of it is that there are a number of garment items—the ubiquitous white lab coat, neckties, and footwear—that can become contaminated with bacteria during the course of clinical care. Pretty much anything a clinician might be wearing could come into contact with bacteria, etc. during the course of patient rounding and other such activities—all surfaces, that at least as a function of an active work day in a hospital, are pretty difficult to clean/disinfect as you go. Sleeves of lab coats, the fronts of scrubs if you lean in to examine a patient (routine exams; precaution patients are already provided for in this regard), etc. all represent an opportunity for bacteria to transfer to those surfaces.

I can certainly see the legitimacy of the thought and can also see how this could be a contributing factor in the pervasiveness of healthcare-acquired infections, so it will be interesting to see what follow-up studies indicate as better practices. I guess base skin is the easiest “surface” to clean/disinfect as you go, though I somehow don’t think that tank tops will ever be adopted as professional garb. Maybe in the tropics…

Paperwork, shmaperwork!

One interesting thing to note during a recent CMS validation survey up here in the Northeast: there was a fair amount of interest on the part of the CMSers on life safety system testing documentation for patient care locations other than the main hospital sites. Fire alarm testing (and sprinkler testing for those locations having sprinkler protection) documentation for physician practices and other free-standing service locations was requested (and in some instances not quite produced in full). I know that generally speaking we tend to focus on stuff that occurs within the “four walls” of the hospital, but once you get outside those walls, you can encounter an increasingly complicated set of conditions. There may be patient care services being provided in leased space, in which case you may have to deal with a landlord to access testing the needed testing documentation (unless, of course, you have taken responsibility for managing that process, but I’m going to guess that folks with multiple sites may not have the “luxury” of taking complete responsibility for those types of activities). I don’t know if this signals a sea change in what documents might be expected, but it’s certainly something worth considering—and perhaps testing within your own sphere of influence. I know I’m going to be asking about these types of processes a little more frequently…

A change will do you good…but what about no change? Exact change?

I’m sure you’ve all had a chance to look over the April 2014 issue of Perspectives, in which EC and LS findings combined to take seven of the top 10 most frequently cited standards during 2013, with issues relating to the integrity of egress taking the top spot.

At this point, I don’t think there are any surprises lurking within those most frequently occurring survey vulnerabilities (if someone out there in the audience has encountered a survey finding that was surprising, I would be most interested in hearing about it). The individual positions in the Top 10 may shift around a bit, but I think that it’s pretty clear that, at the very least, the focus of the TJC survey process has remained fairly constant these past couple of years.

Generally speaking, my sense about the TJC survey cycle is that specific focus items tend to occur in groups of threes (based on the triennial survey cycle, with the assumption being that during each three year period, every hospital would be surveyed—and yes, I do know what happens when you assume…) and I think that 2013 may well represent the end of the first go-round of the intensive life safety survey process (I really believe that 2009-2010 were sort of beta-testing years). So the question I have for you good citizens of the safety world: Has anyone been surveyed yet this year? With follow-up questions of:

  • Did you feel you were better prepared to manage the survey process this time?
  • Was the survey process different this time?
  • More of the same?
  • More difficult?
  • Less difficult?

I’m hoping to get a good sense of whether the tidal wave of EC/LS findings has indeed crested, so anyone interested in sharing would have my gratitude. Please feel free to respond to the group at large by leaving a comment here or if you prefer a little more stealthy approach, please e-mail me at or

News flash: Vacuum cleaner sucks up budgie!

Actually, the news is even bigger than that: it appears that the CMS machine is churning inexorably towards adoption of the 2012 edition of NFPA 101, Life Safety Code. While the last year or so has seen plenty of tidbits (in the form of waivers) tossed our way, the day we’ve been waiting for is finally upon us. There will be plenty of opportunities for in-depth analysis (minimally, TJC is going to have to reconfigure the accreditation manuals to reflect the changes; just when I had memorized the standard and EP numbers…drat!), but I think the main focus for folks is to weigh in on how this is all going to shake out over the next 12 to 18 months.

Fortunately, the powers that be are allowing a two-month comment period that is scheduled to end on June 16, 2014 (everything should be finalized for CMS in about a nine to 12-month timeframe following the close of the comment period). The proposed rule is available for viewing, at which point you can download the proposed rule in its entirety (and it is, as one might suspect, a pretty entire entirety, which is not so very far from decomposing composers, but I digress). There is much information to digest, and again, we’ll have some time to watch how this whole thing comes to fruition. But once again, it’s important to do the reading ahead of time. Confab with your engineering colleagues at the local, state, regional, and national levels; this may very well be the most sweeping change we’re likely to see in the practical application of the Life Safety Code in our hospitals and other healthcare facilities. Make sure everyone with a voice can be heard in the discussion!