It was all in the timing.
Years before the pan-Canadian list of Never Events was released in September 2015, Niagara Health in Southern Ontario had already begun looking at ways to advance its safety culture.
Never Events, named for being incidents that should never happen, can include instances of child abductions, suicides or patients receiving the wrong surgery. Niagara Health recognized that even one Never Event was one too many. With the hospital organization's new strategic plan containing a focus on ingraining a culture of safety and eliminating preventable harm in order to provide extraordinary care, this was seen as a perfect opportunity to embed Never Events within its strategic visioning to combat the challenges in different ways.
A report, prepared by the Canadian Patient Safety Institute and Health Quality Ontario with many partners, specified 15 of the most serious known patient safety incidents and offered guidance on how hospitals might avert them. Those guidelines are not binding, so it remains up to healthcare organizations to decide if and how best to develop strategies that will help prevent such incidents.
"It was actually the Never Events report itself that triggered the added patient safety attention because we saw it as an avenue to increase awareness, to focus on where we were with this set of 15 and did we need to do something about it," said Marilyn Kalmats, Director of Quality, Patient Safety and Risk Management at Niagara Health. As part of an organization that is focused on continuous learning and improvement, the report prompted the question "Were we missing something?"
Niagara Health began reevaluating what it considered to be classified as a never event, prompting clinical staff and administration to take another look at prevention methods. Project teams with a clinical lead and physician lead as well as front-line staff were formed for each of the 15 event types, and were responsible for conducting a gap analysis for each one.
A corporate gamification engagement strategy known as "Bridge to Extraordinary" was already in place at Niagara Health to help with education and information transfer about important topics. The organization – which services 430,000 patients from 12 municipalities across six sites was able to use this strategy to bring attention to Never Events in a fun and interactive way.
Should a never event happen, they would apply the critical incident process which is already in place and involves a root cause analysis of the factors contributing to the incident, along with the development of recommendations to prevent future occurrences. Monthly reporting to the Executive Leadership Team and the Board Quality Committee are also a key part of this process.
"We'd already done a lot of the leg work," said Zeau Ismail, Manager of Quality and Patient Safety at Niagara Health in speaking about the incident review process. "So when the report came out we tied it to the work we were already doing. If we hadn't had the foundation we built, this process wouldn't have been so easy to implement."
Raising awareness of Never Events for all hospital staff was key, he said, adding creating a culture of safety, and responding to incidents in a non-punitive, transparent way helped build trust and put the emphasis on prevention.
A successful tactic that was part of the Never Events campaign was to have all staff, not just clinical staff, participate in the learning and awareness of Never Events. As part of the corporate gamification strategy "Bridge to Extraordinary" for the month of June the Never Events were highlighted. Coffee cards were handed out as prizes for short quizzes in the monthly Never Events bulletins. Never Events were also discussed as learning opportunities at weekly huddle meetings – face-to-face gatherings of all staff at every site in public settings where anyone can listen in.
"We talk about what we are focusing on and how we are going to improve in front of the general public," said Ismail. "It can be uncomfortable at times, but if we don't talk about this, we're not going to improve."
If you would like to share your story on how your organization is focusing efforts to reduce never events, please contact the Canadian Patient Safety Institute at firstname.lastname@example.org