C-Suite Conversations

What healthcare leaders need to know now

Hospital Safety Grade is a simple but powerful way that Leah Binder and Leapfrog Group help make patients safer

By | May 25 th,  2017 | Healthcare, ambulatory care, Leah Binder, maternity, Modern Healthcare, patient safety, president, Blog, CEO, children's hospitals, employers, Hospital Safety Score, Leapfrog Group, outpatient, Top 25 Women in Healthcare | Add A Comment

 

One in a series of interviews with Modern Healthcare's Top 25 Women in Healthcare for 2017. Furst Group and NuBrick Partners, which comprise the companies of MPI, sponsor the awards.

 

Sometimes, the simple things are the easiest to understand. Perhaps that’s one reason that the Leapfrog Group’s Hospital Safety Grade has caught on in such a big way – even with hospitals, who largely weren’t all that thrilled when it was initially launched five years ago.

 

“The response of hospitals has been one of the brightest spots for me in my career,” Leapfrog President and CEO Leah Binder says. “Hospitals are approaching their Hospital Safety Grade constructively. They’re talking about what they are going to do to improve and how proud they are of this ‘A.’ They talk about how they’re not going to stop their efforts to ensure that patients are safe, and describing what those efforts will be.”

 

Every six months, Leapfrog assigns an A, B, C, D or F grade to 2,600 general, acute-care hospitals, rating their performance on safety. It uses standardized measures from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, its own hospital survey, the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Hospital Association.

 

“Many people – even if they’re on the board of a hospital – don’t realize the problem of safety,” Binder says. “When they look into it, they realize how many things can go wrong in a hospital, and that makes a big difference. That’s why I think it’s been important for us to highlight this in a way that’s easily accessible to laypeople.”

 

While everybody wants an “A,” Binder has seen unfavorable grades spur some action.

 

“We see boards get very upset. We see community members get upset. We see repeated articles in newspapers about poor grades,” Binder observes. “We’ve found that it gets their attention, which is a good thing. In fact, we’ve seen hospitals just completely turn around their safety programs when they get a bad grade.”

 

What people outside the healthcare industry don’t always recognize is that the Leapfrog Group was founded by large employers and groups who purchase healthcare and wanted to see some changes in the quality of the care they were paying for.

 

“Employers are not in the business of healthcare,” says Binder. “They’re in the business of doing other things. They make airplanes, and they make automobiles and they run retail department stores. And so, they don’t have a staff of 500 to figure out what’s going on in healthcare, so they rely on organizations like us to try to pull all those resources together for them and help them make the right strategic decisions.”

 

Leapfrog has some compatriots in this area, including the National Business Group on Health, regional groups, and a newcomer called Health Transformation Alliance, in which 20 major employers are teaming up to lower prescription costs, review claims together, structure benefits and create networks.

 

“There’s probably at least 50 organizations that represent specialties for physicians alone,” Binder says. “I don’t think there are nearly enough organizations that are advancing purchaser concerns about healthcare delivery. The purchasers pay for about 20 percent of the $3 trillion healthcare industry, which is a lot of money.”

 

Despite the increased scrutiny, Binder says she thinks the healthcare industry has taken its eye off safety, given the myriad deaths still linked to errors each year.

 

“I think the industry has not been focused on patient safety enough. They’ve been distracted by the compliance with the Affordable Care Act, value-based purchasing, bill payments, new models for financing and delivering care, and change in state and CMS regulations. While those efforts are important, nothing is as critical as making sure people don’t die from preventable errors. Safety has to come first, every minute of every day. Otherwise, patients will suffer.”

 

Binder is doing her best to keep the priority on patients. – in fact, the organization is broadening its reach at the request of its members to take a closer look at other sticky matters in safety:

 

  • Maternity. “Employers pay for half of all the births in this country. Childbirth is by far the number-one reason for admission to a hospital. A C-section is the number one surgical procedure performed in this country. So, we now have some incredible data on maternity care, and employers are starting to meet with hospitals and design packages that encourage the use of hospitals with lower C-section rates based on the Leapfrog data.”
  •  

  • Outpatient and ambulatory care. “We’re going to start rating outpatient surgical units and ambulatory surgical centers. That’s a big priority for purchasers because they are sending a lot of employees to ambulatory surgical centers because they tend to be lower-priced. That’s great – some of them are excellent – but we don’t have enough good data nationally to compare them on safety and quality.”
  •  

  • Children’s hospitals. “There’s a lot of people who would never travel outside their community for their own healthcare, but will travel if they have a very sick child. This year, we added two new measures. We ask pediatric hospitals to do a CAP survey for children’s hospitals. The other thing we’re looking at is exposure to radiation. Sometimes, children have repeated imaging and it can really add up.”
  •  

    Although it is Leapfrog’s job to act as a watchdog for employers and patients, Binder says she does see some positive movement.

     

    “There are bright spots,” she says. “There is a Partnership for Patients program that just concluded with CMS that has demonstrated some real impact. We see reductions in certain kinds of infections and real changes in the ways that hospitals are approaching patient care to address safety. CMS has tracked some saved lives as a result of those changes, and we certainly appreciate those numbers. We’re going in the right direction; we just need a lot more push.”

     

     

    SIDEBAR: Making a difference with the mundane

     

    Hospital deaths and injuries from errors are not always obvious.

     

    “When someone dies from an error or an accident, it’s not easy to track,” says Leah Binder, president and CEO of the Leapfrog Group. “It often doesn’t show up in claims. It can be complicated – the death might be attributed to something else even though, say, there was clearly an infection that hastened the death. It’s just kind of the course of business in the hospital.”

     

    Nearly two decades after the ground-breaking report “To Err is Human,” far too many people are still being killed and injured in healthcare settings, Binder says.

     

    “More than 200,000 people are dying every year from preventable accidents in hospitals,” she says. “We believe that’s a low estimate. There’s lots of accidents and problems in hospitals we can’t measure because no one is tracking them. An example of that would be medication errors, which are the most common errors in hospitals. There’s not a standardized way of tracking that, so we don’t even know how many deaths or adverse events result.”

     

    What is especially frustrating for Binder and her team is that many injuries and deaths happen in spite of the fact the healthcare industry knows how to prevent them. “The fact is, patient safety requires a disciplined, persistent commitment to the mundane habits that save lives,” she says.

     

    “How much more mundane can it possibly be than to say, ‘Everybody needs to wash their hands all the time’? ‘We need to wear the right protective clothing.’ ‘Follow the rules – every single rule every single time.’ ‘We need to do the same checklist every time we do a surgery.’

     

    “Let’s face it, these sound boring. But done systematically, they save lives. And everyone in patient care needs to be disciplined about doing them.”

     

     

    Helen Darling: A strong voice for employers in the healthcare debate

    By | June 10 th,  2013 | Furst Group, glass ceiling, Healthcare, mentoring, National Business Group on Health, payers, executive, health insurance, Lean In, Modern Healthcare, patient safety, president, providers, Sheryl Sandberg, 100 Most Powerful People in Healthcare, Blog, board of directors, CEO, employees, employers, Fortune 500, healthcare costs, healthcare reform, Helen Darling, leadership, marketplaces, national debt, quality, Top 25 Women in Healthcare | Add A Comment

     

    One in a series of profiles of Modern Healthcare’s Top 25 Women in Healthcare (sponsored by Furst Group)

     

    The healthcare industry is undergoing major changes, but Helen Darling says the providers and payers who comprise much of the industry aren’t doing enough to control costs and improve quality. Her words carry a lot of weight – she’s the president and CEO of the National Business Group on Health, which represents many of the large employers in the U.S.
    Darling says her membership would like to see big improvements in safety, quality and costs, but have doubts about whether that could actually happen in an industry with limited competition.

     

    “With our healthcare system, there are no countervailing forces that will essentially force organizations to reduce costs and improve quality and safety,” she says. “We saw very little attention paid to patient safety until the federal government took this tiny amount of money and said, ‘We’re going to hold this back if you don’t meet certain Partnership for Patients goals.’ And that did get people’s attention, but that’s what it took.”

     

    Darling’s non-profit organization represents many Fortune 500 and other large companies, serving as a united voice on healthcare policy and offering solutions to healthcare issues in the marketplace. She says her membership is concerned about where healthcare is headed.

     


    “All you have to do is look at every report written concerning the national debt or the annual deficit and see that healthcare is the driver,” she says. “It’s not Social Security. It’s not education. It’s not feeding children. It’s all about healthcare.”

     

    Darling herself has led a storied career, directing studies at the Institute of Medicine before becoming the health legislative aide for U.S. Sen. Dave Durenberger (R-Minn.). She later worked as a senior executive for Mercer, Xerox and Watson Wyatt (now Towers Watson) before agreeing to lead NBGH. She is a member, and co-chair for ten years, of the Committee on Performance Measurement of the National Committee for Quality Assurance and is Vice Chair of the Board of the National Quality Forum.

     

    Patient safety, she said, is a key concern for her and NBGH.

     

    “There’s nothing like statistics having to do with patient safety to galvanize attention to the problem,” she says. “Just think about the amount of harm or death because somebody, for example, gets an infection. Even if they don’t die, they suffer. I’m sure everybody knows families of someone who got C-Diff or MRSA in the hospital. All you have to do is look at the data and see how much human suffering and wasted cost are behind healthcare associated harm.”
    The lack of progress on that front, she says, is perplexing.

     

    “What I don’t understand, to be honest, is why there isn’t more of an outcry,” she adds. “If somebody eats a hamburger that has some contamination, it’s all over the television. If a plane goes down, people are on it for days in the 24/7 news cycle. And yet every day, in hospitals across the United States, people are being harmed and in some instances are dying from conditions that are preventable and avoidable.”

     

    Darling encourages the executives she represents to serve on the boards of hospitals (something she herself has done), and her group offers them a patient safety toolkit. She encourages trustees to press for frequent safety reports to be given to the CEO and the Board of Directors.

     

    “Historically, hospitals have a risk-management report, and they might have a quality report if, say, the Joint Commission did its audit and found something. The risk-management report will say things like, ‘There was a patient fall this month and we have booked $3 million as part of the liability reserved to take care of it.’ That’s it. Historically, there has been no root cause analysis, no report on what changes they’re making to stop that from ever happening again. That is changing but it isn’t fast enough or universal.”

     

    To be fair, a few of the major employers who make up NBGH’s membership have similarly been criticized for their reaction to healthcare reform, including some who have changed terms of employment that make fewer employees eligible for health insurance. But Darling says health insurance has never been an automatic benefit for the workforce.

     

    “At any given time during the year, we have 60 million people without coverage, and most of them are working people. Health insurance has always been a perk,” she says. “It’s never been something that everybody has, and it is very much related to wages. The irony is, the people with the lowest wages get the least benefits. But I don’t think it’s going to get worse. If the insurance marketplaces work the way they’re supposed to work, we will be better off in terms of coverage (although not in terms of the costs of health benefits coverage on a net basis).”

     

    But the penalties for lack of coverage will need to change before that happens, Darling adds.

     

    “The penalty is not as much as it will cost people to get the coverage. They can’t tell people they have to have a package that will cost, on average, $7,000, and then tell them the penalty for not buying coverage is $1,000. They’re going to have to change the package because it makes the subsidies much richer. They will bankrupt the country on that one.”

     

    Still, she says she’s confident that the gap will be bridged.

     

    “All that needs to be sorted out, but I actually think we will have more people covered. Nobody will be happy about a lot of the details. In the end, I think more states will look a little more like Massachusetts.”

     

    Darling has been selected numerous times by Modern Healthcare as one of the Top 100 Most Powerful People in Healthcare in addition to her new award as one of the Top 25 Women in Healthcare. The Modern Healthcare article announcing the Top 25 Women was headlined, “Beyond the Glass Ceiling,” and Darling said she thinks some of that ceiling is self-imposed among women.

     

    “I belong more to the Sheryl Sandberg ‘Lean In’ school,” she says. “I’ve been hiring men and women and mentoring them for a long time. I still see significant differences in the way men and women assess themselves, in the way they think about their careers and their families.”

     

    She laughs as she relates a humorous story she heard on the radio recently. “It said that if women miss a child’s school event, they are just wracked with guilt. But if a man merely drops the child off at the event, he feels like he made a major contribution. That’s pretty funny, and pretty accurate.

     

    “And as long as that’s true, women won’t always be able to have the same kind of executive career that men do. They can have the combined benefits of living in both worlds but as long as executive careers require the kind of 24/7 commitment to work that most do, women and men will have to choose what balance or lack of balance they really want.”

    Page 1/1