January 18, 2002

New patient safety center one of 13 in nation

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Dr. Robert Dittus

New patient safety center one of 13 in nation

Vanderbilt University Medical Center is taking the lead in a national initiative to reduce medical errors and improve patient safety. The Center for Improving Patient Safety opened Oct. 1 to combat an issue that claims thousands of lives in America each year.

“Vanderbilt is proud to take a lead in improving healthcare systems,” said Dr. Robert Dittus, director of the center. “We certainly seek to design and implement systems that are safe, effective, efficient, timely, accessible and patient-centered. The creation of the center will help to consolidate a considerable foundation of activities ongoing within the medical center and across our partners.”

Part of a $50 million initiative of the U.S. Health and Human Services, the center is being funded by a grant from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) and the National Patient Safety Foundation (NPSF). The initiative represents the federal government’s largest single investment to address patient deaths related to medical errors.

One of 13 centers to receive funding in the United States, Vanderbilt is partnering with Meharry Medical College, the VA Tennessee Valley Healthcare System, and NPSF to coordinate the center’s efforts to reduce medical errors, particularly in minority patients.

According to the November 1999 Institute of Medicine report on medical errors, more than 98,000 Americans die each year as a result of preventable medical errors. The report also ties those deaths to an associated cost (loss of life, income, disability, and direct health care cost) of $29 billion annually.

The goals of the center are:

• to use and modify existing safety and medical error reporting systems and develop new systems to study the typology and epidemiology of errors.

• to examine differences in systems between populations and delivery systems that differ in patient race, ethnicity and socioeconomic status.

• to develop systems for improving patient safety.

• to examine the organizational and cultural issues that facilitate or impede error reporting and safety improvement, and develop educational programs that will reduce errors and improve safety.

• to design, implement, analyze and disseminate the results from a pilot project addressing the epidemiology of medical errors.

“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,” said HHS Secretary Tommy G. Thompson in a recent statement. “These grants will help identify the causes of medical errors and develop effective solutions to strengthen quality of care across the country.”

The research initiative is the first phase of a multi-year effort by the HHS to control deaths from medical errors. Many institutions will receive additional funding to continue future research.

Dittus, Albert and Bernard Werthan, Professor of Medicine and chief, Division of General Internal Medicine at Vanderbilt, is the principal investigator of the grant. Ted Speroff, Ph.D., is the associate director at Vanderbilt. Dr. Bob Levine is the associate director at Meharry.

Other Vanderbilt faculty members participating in the center are Dr. Kathy Edwards; Dan France, Ph.D.; Dr. Marie Griffin; Dr. Gerald Hickson; Dr. Randall Miller; James Pichert, Ph.D.; and Wayne Ray, Ph.D. Meharry participants include Drs. Gary Duncan, Gwinnett Ladson, Rubens Pamies, William Rodney, Steven Stain, Susanne Tropez-Sims.