Patient Advocate and Founder, Emily Jerry Foundation
The No. 1 barrier to reducing this number, which may be higher as a result of underreporting, is lack of awareness among physicians and patients alike, said patient safety advocate Christopher Jerry.
Honoring Emily’s memory
Jerry, who founded the Emily Jerry Foundation, is well aware of the issue due to his personal experience.
In 2006, his then-2-year-old daughter, Emily, having an amazing prognosis for a complete recovery, died due to a medical error on what was supposed to be her very last day of chemotherapy. Specifically, an overdose of sodium chloride in chemotherapy killed Emily, just days after celebrating her second birthday at the hospital where she was receiving treatment.
Yet the tragedy did not leave Jerry resentful of the physicians who treated her, whom he acknowledged meant no harm in their mistake. Instead, the tragedy inspired the father of three to delve into scientific data for answers and then speak out.
“What I discovered was most all preventable medical errors in the United States occur as a result of the inherent human error component of medicine,” said Jerry, who is based in Cleveland, Ohio. “So, the focus of my work through the Emily Jerry Foundation over the past decade now has been to focus on the modification of core systems, processes, and protocols in healthcare, and finding ways to reduce the probability from creeping into the equation during the course of treatment.”
Addressing human error
Jerry noted that the next patient safety issue at hand is acknowledging that human error itself is unfortunately inevitable in healthcare. Therefore the core systems, processes, and protocols must be designed to account for this fact, Jerry argued.
The third and largest issue in patient safety, Jerry said, is that healthcare systems are too slow to adopt and implement technology that is clinically proven to help address human error. However, simply investing in these technologies isn’t enough, Jerry said. They must also be paired with “new and improved and ever-evolving best practices as the experts in the individual modalities and healthcare develop them.”
In addition to introducing legislation to this end, the Emily Jerry Foundation is working on a number of projects, including a new initiative called the Medication Safety Scholars program with the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists. “This is a distanced, mentored impact program that’s really designed to support Doctor of Pharmacy students, who are paired with a mentor to enhance their overall knowledge and skillset about medication safety.” The program will give participants access to continuing education and mentorship, setting them up to become leaders when they become practicing healthcare professionals.
Striving for change
“I thought this was just a freak accident that happened to Emily, and then I discovered preventable medical error has been identified as the third leading cause of death,” Jerry said. “That makes it an issue that affects each and every one because we all receive healthcare during the course of our lifetimes, and all of our loved ones receive healthcare during the course of their lifetimes. This is why we all should be concerned about it and paying attention.”
At the same time, Jerry said he believes that as a global community, individuals and organizations can work together to reduce or eliminate medical errors like the one that took his young daughter’s life too soon. “I wouldn’t be doing this work so passionately and have committed my life’s work to this if I didn’t think we could fix this and save countless lives,” Jerry said.