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Last Call for 2018: National Patient Safety Goal on suicide prevention

While I will freely admit that this based on nothing but my memory (and the seeming constant stream of reasons to reiterate), I believe that the management of behavioral health patients as a function of ligature risks, suicide prevention, etc., was the most frequently occurring topic in this space. That said, I feel (reasonably, but not totally) certain that this is the last time we’ll have to bring this up in 2018. But we’ve got a whole 52 weeks of 2019 to look forward to, so I suspect we’ll continue to return to this from time to time (to time, to time, to time—cue eerie sound effects and echo).

If you’ve had a chance to check out the December 2018 edition of Perspectives, you may have noticed that The Joint Commission is updating some of the particulars of National Patient Safety Goal (NPSG) #15, which will be effective July 1, 2019, though something tells me that strategies for compliance are likely to be bandied about during surveys before that. From a strategic perspective, I suspect that most folks are already taking things in the required direction(s), so hopefully the recent times of intense scrutiny (and resulting survey pain for organizations) will begin to shift to other subjects.

At any rate, for the purposes of today’s discussion, there is (and always will be) a component relating to the management of physical environment, both in (and on) psychiatric/behavioral health hospitals and psychiatric/behavioral health units in general hospitals (my mother-in-law loves General Hospital, but I never hear her talking about risk assessments…). So, the official “environmental risk assessment” must occur in/on behavioral health facilities/units, with a following program for minimizing the risks to ensure the environment is appropriately ligature-resistant. No big changes to that as an overarching theme.

But where I had hoped for a little more clarity is for those pesky areas in the general patient population in which we do/might manage patients at risk to harm themselves. We still don’t have to make those areas ligature resistant, with the recommendation aimed at mitigating the risk for patients at high risk (the rest of the NPSG covers a lot of ground relative to the clinical management of patients, including identification of the self-harm risks). But there is a note that recommends (the use of “should” in the note is the key here, though I know of more than a handful of surveyors that can turn that “should” into a “must” in the blink of an eye) assessment of clinical areas to identify stuff that could be used for self-harm (and there’s a whole heck of a lot of stuff that could be used for self-harm) and should be routinely removed when possible from the area around a patient who has been identified as high risk. Further, there is an expectation that that information would be used to train staff who monitor these high-risk patients, for example (and this is their example, but it’s a good ‘un), developing a checklist to help staff remember which equipment, etc., should be removed when possible.

It would seem we have a little time to get this completed, but I would encourage folks to start their risk identification process soon if you have not already done so. I personally think the best way to start this is to make a list of everything in the area being assessed and identify the stuff that can be removed (if it is not clinically necessary to care for the patient), the stuff that can’t be removed (that forms the basis of the education of staff—they need to be mindful of the stuff that can’t be removed after we’ve removed all that there is to be removed) and work from there. As I have maintained right along, in general, we do a good (not perfect) job with managing these patients and I don’t think the actual numbers support the degree to which this tail has been wagging the regulatory dog (everything is a risk, don’t you know). Hopefully, this is a sign that the regulatory eyeball will be moving on to other things.

Isolation room occupancy notification? Do tell!

I know there’s been a lot of “official” activity of late occupying my thoughts, but there’s one discussion I’ve been pondering for a bit and, as something of a change of pace, I thought I would kick this one out to you.

One of the struggles I’ve noticed over the years is the intermittent disconnect when it comes to the management of patients that are on one type of precaution or another. Now I recognize that sometimes those precautions are for the benefit/protection of the patient and other times they are for the benefit/protection of everyone else. As near as I can tell, that’s a pretty clear set of considerations. And (also as near as I can tell), the successful management of that set of considerations often hinges on appropriate and timely communications to support staff that precautions are in place so they can plan accordingly.

But I still encounter instances in which the communication of a patient’s precaution status is incomplete and/or not particularly timely, which increases the potential for a gap in protection (again, staff or patients can be at greater risk). For example, staff on the unit removing the precaution sign from the door when the patient has been discharged, but before the folks from Environmental Services have cleaned the room and made it ready for the next patient. Or a patient is transported somewhere for testing and the precaution information is not shared at the outset of the process—sometimes folks don’t find out until after the testing/procedure has been completed. I know in this age of electronic medical records, etc., this type of information is “available”, but just because something is “there” doesn’t necessarily mean that the person at the other end of the process actually “saw” the information.

In noting that the National Patient Safety Goal regarding handoff communication is 10 years old this year (2006 seems like such a long time ago!), I was poking around on the interweb to see what resources, etc., might be available and  couldn’t help but notice that the focus of a lot of the information is for communications between caregivers, so building on the paradigm shift that we are all caregivers, I think it points out the importance of ensuring that everyone along the care continuum receives the information they need to do their job safely. And in doing so, we have to work under the thought that unless we specifically communicate something to the “next step” in the process (and yes, that “step” can be a person), we are responsible for letting that person know what’s going on—every time. Things can change outside of our “field of vision”; maybe there’s someone who’s just returned from vacation or was off for a couple of days and wasn’t here for the patient’s stay up to this point. It is just as important for them to be brought up to date as it would be if the patient were just arriving. Given everything that goes on between the four+ walls of our organizations, I don’t think anyone can afford the luxury of assuming (and I think the risks of the “assume” have been very well-established) that everyone has a complete idea of what’s happening.

And I know that we are by no means perfect when it comes to this stuff—just look at your patient satisfaction scores—a great majority of the improvement opportunities relate to how effectively we communicate with: our patients, our patients’ family members, each other. Humans tend to be a rather social bunch of folks and I don’t think it hurts anyone in the process to make sure that everyone has a clear understanding of what is going on.

On that note, I will leave you with one quote, attributed to Stephen Hawking (I consider him a pretty bright guy): “For millions of years, mankind lived just like the animals. Then something happened which unleashed the power of our imagination. We learned to talk and we learned to listen. Speech has allowed the communication of ideas, enabling human beings to work together to build the impossible. Mankind’s greatest achievements have come about by talking, and its greatest failures by not talking. It doesn’t have to be like this. Our greatest hopes could become reality in the future. With the technology at our disposal, the possibilities are unbounded. All we need to do is make sure we keep talking.”

So let’s follow the Hawk’s lead and keep talking!

Sound the alarm…no, wait, silence the alarm…no, wait—what?!?

Now that we have almost reached the summer solstice, I guess it’s time to start thinking/talking about 2016 and what it might bring from an accreditation perspective—it will be here almost before we know it (time flies when you’re having fun—and we’re having too much fun, are we not?)

One of the developments that I am watching with a bit of interest (if only because it is not at all clear how this is going to be administered in the field) is the next step in the clinical alarm National Patient Safety Goal (for those of you keeping score, that’s NPSG.06.01.01 if you need to find it in your accreditation manual—and I’m sure you’re sleeping with that under your pillow…). Presumably at this point, you have covered the elements that are in full surveyability—establishment of alarm system safety as an organizational priority (pretty simple, that one) and identification of the most important alarm signals based on:

  • input from medical staff and clinical departments (Have you got documentation for that?)
  • risk to patients if the alarm signal is not attended or if it malfunctions
  • whether specific alarm signals are needed or unnecessarily contribute to alarm noise and alarm fatigue
  • potential for patient harm based on internal incident history
  • published best practices and guidelines (Can you say AAMI and ECRI? Sure you can!)

Everyone out there in radioland should have this much of the package in place. Now, it’s time to do something with that process.

Starting January 1, 2016, each organization is on the hook for establishing policies and procedures for managing the alarms identified through the process noted above. The policies/procedures need to address elements such as clinically appropriate settings for alarm signals, when the alarms can be disabled; setting, changing and management of alarm parameters; monitoring and responding to alarm signals, etc. And, of course, we need to education staff and LIPs about the purpose and proper operation of alarm systems for which they are responsible (that’s a pretty good swath of education, I’m thinking).

At any rate, I’m curious about a couple of things—how are you folks coming with this process? And while I understand the importance of the safe use of clinical alarms, how much of a deal is this really? I completely recognize that in the zero tolerance world of healthcare in the 21st century, one event that traces back to an issue with the appropriate use, etc. of a clinical alarm is one too many events, particularly as a function of patient safety. Perhaps the question should be this: has mandating this process resulted in your hospital being safer? I know this is a “have to,” though there is certainly enough gray to allow for some customization of approach (I suspect that a cookie cutter approach is not the best strategy—too many different alarms in too many different environments), what’s this going to look like in the hands of our friends from Chicago when they darken our collective doors. If anyone has some feedback on how this is playing during survey, that would be wonderful, even if you just share the story with me (I’ll remove any identifying remarks), I (and the blogosphere) would be forever in your debt.

Happy Flag Week (it hardly seems reasonable to hold it to just a day)!