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Course on patient safety a real eye-opener for students

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Students at a patient safety course
“I would change the class from an elective to a required course,” one student says.

Photo: Katie Marchetti


Nowhere is teamwork more important than in patient care.

“Delivery of high quality patient care requires that physicians, nurses, pharmacists — everyone involved with the care of a patient — work together well,” said David Mayer, assistant professor of anesthesiology and assistant dean for curriculum in the College of Medicine.

“We have to work as teams, communicate as teams and train as teams.”

To teach this teamwork, faculty from five health science schools created a new elective course in patient safety and quality outcomes.

Future doctors, graduate and student nurses, dentists, physical and occupational therapists, nutritionists, pharmacists and public health students learned together in the course.

Topics included disclosure of medical errors, legislation, total quality management — and the patient’s point of view.

“The course offered a wide range of perspectives to me that I hadn’t been exposed to elsewhere in medical school,” said Lisa Liu, a third-year medical student.

The course focused on a major source of medical errors: poor communication.

“It’s the common theme when we analyze a medical error,” said Tim McDonald, associate chief medical officer in the Medical Center department of safety and risk management.

Mayer, McDonald and Anne Gunderson, director of collaborative education and practice in the College of Nursing, developed the course. They brought in national leaders and researchers in patient safety, as well as faculty from different disciplines.

Peter Angood, vice president and chief safety officer of the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations, explained the role JACHO plays in hospital safety.

Dora Hughes, Sen. Barak Obama’s legislative aide for health care policy, discussed the proposed Clinton/Obama Medic Act on patient safety. Rosemary Gibson, program director for the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and author of a groundbreaking book advocating full disclosure of medical errors, was another guest speaker.

Lecturers referred to a hidden cost of medical errors — people leaving the health care professions.

“If we’re honest, we have to admit we’ve seen errors,” said Kathy Walrath, an acute care nurse with more than 20 years experience and a graduate student in the College of Nursing, who took the elective.

“If you see a problem, no matter how small, even a near-miss where no one is hurt, it’s upsetting to the staff. Full disclosure, allowing people to talk about and understand what happened, can make a huge difference.”

Several lecturers cited work from the field of total quality management that has played an important role in many industries, from airline safety to Toyota production systems.

“I come from a background in engineering,” said Ed Rico, a third-year medical student, who took the course.

“I thought it was a very good idea to apply processes and methods in delivery of quality learned from industry to health care.

“The introduction of this kind of assessment was unique in my medical school experience.”

Patients were invited to share their own experiences.

“In medical school we tend to get things from only one perspective,” said Liu.

“We may have a course on how to give bad news to a patient and discuss how it affects us, but we don’t really have an opportunity to see how medical errors affect patients and their families.”

Students said they found the class a real eye-opener — before taking the course, few had any exposure to patient safety issues.

Even Waldrath, with 20 years of nursing experience, said, “I was surprised at how much I didn’t know.

“At the end of the class, we were asked for an evaluation of what would we change in the course the next time it was given, what we would keep the same. I would change the class from an elective to a required course,” Waldrath said.

Mayer, Gunderson and McDonald have ambitious aims for the course, which will be available to other health science schools for developing their own patient safety curriculum.

“All members of the health professions, whether physicians, nurses, pharmacists or physical therapists, have the same goal — to deliver the best patient care possible — but we are seldom on the same page,” said Gunderson.

“This course represents UIC’s commitment to a different approach to health care education, to finding what will work in the future.

“UIC is putting its resources behind a different kind of training. That’s the future of collaborative health science education.”


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