Saving lives with inter-agency teamwork — how one Sammies finalist is reducing medical errors

Every year, tens of thousands of patients die or are harmed by preventable medical errors such as pharmaceutical prescription mistakes, hospital acquired infections and surgical missteps. Breakdowns in communication among doctors, nurses and other care providers are a leading cause of these tragic errors.

James Battles is a social science analyst at the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality at the Department of Health and Human Services.

He and his partner Heidi King (Director, Patient Safety Solutions Center, TRICARE Management Activity at DoD) have created and implemented a health-care professional team training program that has become the gold standard for eliminating thousands of preventable patient deaths each year due to medical errors. It’s called TeamSTEPPS.

Battles told Chris Dorobek on the DorobekINISDER program how the program works.

“The leading cause of medical harm is poor teamwork by frontline employees,” said Battles.

TeamSTEPPS — teams are taught 4 skill sets

  1. leadership
  2. mutual support
  3. situation monitoring
  4. communication — you need a standard language

The nationwide program was modeled after the aviation industry and military.

Inter-agency collaboration: “It’s surprising how well the DoD and HHS have worked together. It’s a marvelous opportunity for two very different and very large agencies to come together,” said Battles

Follow up: “There needs to be lots and lots of reinforcement. Coaching is absolutely essential and that coaching follow-up is what makes the program successful,” said Battles.

For their impressive work both Battles and King have been nominated for the Service to America Award. You can check out all our interviews with the Sammies finalists here.

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