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Why Transparency Is Key to Better and Safer Healthcare

leapfrog group-patient safety-healthcare
leapfrog group-patient safety-healthcare

We spoke with Leah Binder, CEO of Leapfrog Group, about the importance of transparency in healthcare and what steps can be taken to improve patient safety.

Leah Binder

CEO, Leapfrog Group

How is the Leapfrog Group involved in patient safety?

Leapfrog Group was founded by large employers who were worried about the safety of their employees when they were admitted to the hospital. They were concerned about the rates of infections and errors, and accidents and harms, because their employees were getting seriously injured and staying in the hospital a lot longer. That wasn’t only harmful to the employees, which is the most important thing, but it was also expensive and wasteful.

So, they founded Leapfrog to publicly report how hospitals were doing on safety and quality so their employees could make informed decisions before they went to the hospital, and so they could do a better job purchasing health benefits, ultimately making sure they were getting the best care for their employees.

What are some of the most pressing issues in healthcare quality and patient safety today?

One of the biggest issues is how we recovered from the pandemic, and how we can do better next time. We want people to feel at least somewhat safe when they go to the hospital in a public health emergency.

We think of hospitals as where the greatest expertise should be during a public health emergency. But in fact, during the pandemic, they really fell short on safety, and there’s lots of reasons for that. But we want to examine those reasons, make sure they don’t happen again, and do better next time. 

The other issue is new technology, and especially AI; will that be used to the benefit of patients or not? There are certainly some hazards ahead.

I’ve seen discussions of using generative AI to handle emergency calls in the middle of the night from patients. So, instead of on-call physicians, a bot would try to answer these calls. I don’t think most patients would like to have to talk to a bot when they’re really scared in the middle of the night.

That’s just one example of something we may not think is a great use of technology. The other patient safety problem is that AI can be inaccurate but sound accurate, which is not a good combination in healthcare. 

On the other hand, there are some really exciting ways AI can be used to improve safety, for instance, by spotting issues in medical records where a patient might be at great risk of a problem that otherwise wouldn’t be noticed. That would allow doctors and nurses to intervene early and prevent it from happening.

What future developments do you see really improving healthcare quality and patient safety?

Coming back to transparency, we’re seeing a lot more publicly reported data. And I think the hospital safety grade is growing by leaps and bounds. It’s had an enormous influence, and it’s growing in influence. We see, for instance, a hospital CEO have their compensation packages tied to their safety grade. That’s a huge thing. When you start to see executives who look at their paycheck and see how they’re doing on safety.

I’d like to see more transparency around other settings, because hospitals are not the only places where people seek care — we just have better data for hospitals right now. But we should be getting data on nursing homes, urgent care, primary care practices … any place where people seek care. That will give people even more information and more transparency. 

Why is transparency so essential in patient care?

Transparency is the critical first step to a better healthcare system. There is no substitute for transparency. We absolutely have to be as candid and open as possible in all of our communications about healthcare.

We have found that transparency is what galvanizes real change — nothing else galvanizes change. Patient safety is one of those issues that people have been talking about for 40-50 years, and people know what to do.

Patient safety is actually not that complicated to address from a book-learning point of view. You wash your hands — that’s one of the big strategies for patient safety. The things you do to maintain safety are just about paying attention to the patient all the time, making sure that they’re safe all the time, and washing your hands and taking precautions. That’s it. We know how, but we don’t do it all the time, and that’s the problem.

When people are getting safer care, and we know that it’s happening, then that speeds up change. And when we know it’s not happening, it also speeds change, because people worry about it. There’s motivation to change. But I do think that without transparency, you just you can’t see social change.

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