Goal Setting: Preventable Patient Harm – 'Target Zero?'

During a recent goal-setting cycle, I worked on setting reasonable, although loftier, strategic goal metrics due to significant LEAN expert resourcing for my management team to focus on making transformative leaps in process improvements rather than small, incremental changes. In analyzing the strategic goal area of preventable patient harm, the Patient Safety Composite observed to expected ratio baseline was 0.629. A ratio above 1 is undesirable and a ratio below 1.0 is highly desirable. So, 0.629 is excellent, correct? Instead of improving the stretch goal by 5%, we considered 10% improvement. That is stretch goal, chest pounding, we are doing a fantastic job material!

Amid this goal setting, I was at the beach watching the news and drinking a cup of coffee readying myself for a day of fellowship, bocce ball, and sun. The local station in Myrtle Beach, SC ran a story with some interviews regarding the Target Zero – South Carolina’s Highway Safety Plan 2015 -2018. The plan was developed by the SC Departments of Public Safety and Transportation with many stakeholders including the SC Highway Patrol.

At the time, South Carolina’s 5-year average highway mortalities were ~800 per year. Immediately, I thought what an audacious goal considering they do not have control of every aspect of the events – human error, human disregard for rules, or processes/design flaws/mechanical failures. Think about this strategy compared to preventable patient harm with a Just Culture mindset as illustrated below:

If South Carolina is setting a target of zero highway fatalities, what is preventing me/us from setting a target of zero for preventable patient harm? The way we analyze data with observed to expected ratios with results below 1.0 informs us we are doing better than expected and inadvertently depersonalizes this issue. At 0.629, we were knocking it out of the park. At the end of the day, it is about perspective. The interviews shown on the newscast drove this point home for me. The interviewers asked residents around South Carolina two separate questions regarding goal setting for decreasing highway fatalities. Please view the video for about 2 minutes (from WMBF News in Myrtle Beach, SC) here.

Again, the Patient Safety Composite observed to expected results of 0.629 were fantastic! Well, not for the 53 patients harmed that we, as an industry, deem to be preventable. So, how will you set future goals and allocate resources to achieving those goals? Are small incremental improvements satisfactory or do we look to transform our thinking, people, and processes to achieve Target Zero for Preventable Patient Harm?

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