Safety grant first to include patient, family

Posted on Wednesday, July 14th, 2010

A new grant from the Department of Health and Human Services’ Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) will help Medical School researchers review a disclosure and compensation model for injured patients and their families in an effort to improve safety and the quality of care. The $1.8 million grant was one of just seven demonstration grants awarded nationally.

Dr. Eric Thomas, professor of internal medicine, is the principal investigator on the grant, which will investigate disclosure and compensation in the UT System over a three-year period, identify best practices for using disclosure to improve patient safety, and disseminate best practices with a focus on incorporating patient and family input into efforts to understand why errors occur.

Thomas said the UT System has a policy to encourage disclosure and compensation to patients. “This is a process by which the caregivers inform the patient about significant errors in their care,” he said. “Patients are told about what happened, why it happened, what can be done to prevent it from happening again, and caregivers express regret (as appropriate) and empathy. Compensation is offered if appropriate, without requiring the patient to sue.”

Compensation varies from patient to patient, but includes compensation for out-of-pocket healthcare expenses, compensation for lost wages, and compensation for other expenses that might relate to long-term care needs.

Thomas, director of the UT Houston-Memorial Hermann Center for Healthcare Quality and Safety, has conducted research on patient safety since 1992. He and his colleagues are in the process of training 20-30 faculty members at each UT System health campus to become disclosure coaches to facilitate this process.

“Advocating disclosure and compensation is not new, but studying how to use the disclosure process to learn about mistakes and improve care is new,” he said. “This will be the first attempt to try and include the injured patient and family member in the process of learning about what went wrong. We want to find out how their perspectives can be added to those of the caregivers in efforts to learn and improve care.”

The three-year project begins this week. “Potentially, we could include any of the six UT health campuses in the study. In the end, we will be testing best practices at several, but probably not all, sites,” Thomas added.

The demonstration and planning grants are part of the patient safety and medical liability initiative that President Barack Obama announced during a Sept. 9, 2009, address to a joint session of Congress.

“This new research is the largest government investment connecting medical liability to quality and aims to improve the overall quality of health care,” said Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.

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