A nurse since 1985, Joan Wynn remembers when the Institute of Medicine released its 1999 publication, "To Err is Human: Building a Safer Health System."
Across the United States each year, the report said, as many as 98,000 people were dying in hospitals as a result of medical errors. Preventable mistakes—such as improper transfusions or wrong-site surgery—caused more deaths than motor-vehicle wrecks, breast cancer and AIDS.
Tipping Point for Focus on Quality and Safety
"There were lots of questions when the report was published," Wynn says. "Is this for real? Is it fear-mongering? Is it accurate? How do we respond? It was a tipping point."
Wynn is now the chief quality and patient safety officer for University Health Systems of Eastern Carolina, a regional health system that serves 29 North Carolina counties. From her office in Greenville, N.C., she works closely with the North Carolina Center for Hospital Quality and Patient Safety, established in 2005 to support hospitals with quality and patient safety activities.
A five-year grant from The Duke Endowment funds the Quality Center, along with a donation from Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina. Dr. Carol Koeble, an OB/GYN physician, is the director.
Statewide Collaboration Brings Hospitals Together
Created by the North Carolina Hospital Association, the Quality Center offers educational and collaborative programs and performance measurement services. Although still in its infancy, it has already engaged and supported nearly every hospital in the state.
One collaborative, for example, is focused on improving surgical care. Called the North Carolina Surgical Care Improvement Project, the effort began in 2007 and has brought together 60 hospitals.
Another collaborative program is helping hospitals establish a culture that supports shared accountability and moves away from a punitive atmosphere.
The Quality Center also developed the N.C. Hospital Quality Performance Report, which provides standardized quality information to consumers.
"Are patients safer now than they were in 1999? I think so," Wynn says. "They are armed with better information about hospitals because of public data. They know what questions to ask and they can advocate for themselves. Quality and safety have moved to the forefront of what we do in health care and that makes for a better system for patients."
Lin B. Hollowell III
Director of Health Care