What Are the National Patient Safety Goals?

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Written by Steve Tanner Editor, B2B Content, IntelyCare
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Reviewed by Diana Campion, MSN, APRN, ANP-C Education Development Nurse, Content Writer, IntelyCare
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While hospital care had become increasingly safer for patients between 2010 and 2019 (prior to COVID-19), there were some alarming safety concerns in post-acute care facilities. For example, roughly 40% of nursing homes were cited for infection prevention and control deficiencies between 2013 and 2019. Thankfully, there are national standards. So, what are the national patient safety goals for healthcare facilities and how are they applied?

Accidents happen even in the best-run facilities. Ideally, organizations work to continually improve their processes with the goal of minimizing instances of infections, medication errors, patient misidentifications, and other mistakes that endanger patient safety. We’ll explore the National Patient Safety Goals, how they’re applied, and discuss some best practices.

What Are the National Patient Safety Goals? An Overview

The potential for errors in healthcare is high. Add the unsustainably high turnover rate among nurses, and the strain on our healthcare systems further increases the likelihood of errors. As organizations struggle with staffing levels and nurse retention, providing the best patient care possible becomes harder to manage and can compromise patient safety as well. The National Patient Safety Goals were developed by the Joint Commission to ensure that accredited healthcare institutions are providing patients with the best care possible.

The Joint Commission patient safety goals were developed across facility types in order to help organizations re-center patient safety in their care, and avoid preventable harm. These are tailored to each specific type of facility, although there is some overlap. The nine facility types, or “programs,” include:

What Are the National Patient Safety Goals Based On?

The Patient Safety Advisory Group is tasked with identifying patient safety issues, suggesting methods for managing and mitigating these risks, and (if necessary) updating the safety goals on an annual basis. The Advisory Group consists of physicians, nurses, pharmacists, risk managers, and other healthcare professionals. Additional input and expertise comes from consumers, subject matter experts, and government agencies (such as the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services).

The Joint Commission identifies emerging patient safety issues that could be abated through modifications at healthcare facilities. With the help of focus groups, experts, and other stakeholders, the Joint Commission prepares a draft of proposed standards, which are then submitted to the broader healthcare community for input through the Standard Field Review process.

From there, the proposed standards are revised, refined, and updated as needed (pending approval by executive leadership). Surveyors, who review facilities for accreditation purposes, are briefed about how to assess compliance with the new standards. Finally, the new standards are published for use in the field, although ongoing feedback is welcomed for the purpose of making any necessary adjustments.

What Are the National Patient Safety Goals Used For?

These safety goals directly impact the practice of all healthcare professionals and are used to accredit healthcare organizations (every three years for most facilities), with a focus on processes and organizational functions most associated with patient safety and improving patient outcomes. Failure to renew this accreditation can result in the inability to seek reimbursement from Medicare and Medicaid, and often is a precursor to a facility’s closure.

Surveys are typically unannounced. The accreditation process consists of three main components:

  • Monitoring care delivered to patients, residents, etc.
  • Reviewing documentation provided by the facility
  • Observing and interviewing staff (and sometimes patients)

The survey results are scored against specific performance standards, called “elements of performance,” and an initial summary is provided at the conclusion of the survey. A final accreditation determination is made later. A facility may be awarded the following:

  • Accreditation
  • Limited Temporary Accreditation
  • Accreditation with Follow-up Survey
  • Preliminary Denial of Accreditation
  • Denial of accreditation

Members of the public can check a healthcare facility’s accreditation status online. You can also search by city, state, zip code, or type of facility for a list of accredited facilities.

Suggestions for Top Patient Safety Concerns

According to the National Patient Safety Goals, there are seven main problem areas that can potentially lead to patient injury. The Advisory Group offers the following suggestions for addressing these general problem areas (see the chapter corresponding to your facility type for specifics).

  1. Identify patients correctly: For instance, use the patient’s name and date of birth.
  2. Improve staff communications: Get test results to the right person in a timely manner; use clear and effective nurse handoff reports.
  3. Use medicines safely: Always label medications and ask patients for up-to-date medication info with each visit; report all adverse or unusual side-effects.
  4. Use alarms safely: Be sure medical equipment alarms are properly functioning and responded to promptly.
  5. Prevent infection: Proper and thorough hand-cleaning is essential.
  6. Identify patient safety risks: This includes reducing the risk of patient suicide.
  7. Prevent mistakes in surgery: Ensure the correct procedure is done on the correct patient on the correct part of the patient’s body.

Patient Safety Is the First Step to a Healthy Facility

Now that you can answer the question, What are the National Patient Safety Goals? you’re likely looking for additional ways to maintain a high-quality healthcare facility that puts patient health and safety first. IntelyCare’s newsletter will help keep you well-informed, with free useful tips and expert insights.