In honor of Patient Safety Awareness Week (March 12-18) we’re examining different aspects of patient safety in Ambulatory Surgery Centers (ASCs). In this post, we look at three ways communication is vital to keeping patients safe.
We all know the research: ASCs are generally considered a safer environment for patients than hospitals. Patient-to-nurse ratios are smaller, allowing for more one-on-one attention and care. Time spent in the facility is shorter, meaning less time to be exposed to and develop an infection. Finally, the patients that come to ASCs typically aren’t “sick” to begin with, or they wouldn’t qualify for outpatient surgery.
While patient safety is one of the inherent advantages an outpatient surgery center offers, attention to safety at an ASC should still be a top-of-mind priority. Every detail must be considered to ensure that when patients are discharged, they are in at least as good condition as when they came in — and that job isn’t only up to the doctors and nurses in the OR.
ASC patient safety is everybody’s responsibility, including administrators, office staff and even the patients themselves. And for all of these individuals, communication is at the core of safety. From patient confusion to staff misunderstandings, a great deal of potentially harmful occurrences can be avoided with better communication. Why? Because patient safety is about more than checking off a list of facility standards. Patient care is complex; there’s a lot of important information involved, but it’s only useful when it’s effectively shared.
Here are three ways communication can help ensure patient safety at your ASC:
1. Developing and enforcing policies and procedures.
While there are standard policies and procedures to follow for optimal patient care, no two surgery centers are exactly the same, and ASC administrators can solicit and use input from the entire staff to tailor safety guidelines for their particular center as needed. It’s also the administrator’s responsibility to ensure that everyone is following those policies and procedures, and to be proactive when deviations are reported or observed.
For example, everyone within a facility has a responsibility to follow hand hygiene policies. Regularly washing hands with soap and clean, running water is considered the first line of defense against infections, and despite how simple it may seem, studies have noted that complete hand hygiene compliance is still a problem. From mere forgetfulness and distractions, to broken or empty dispensers, the causes of noncompliance vary, but there is no excuse for a less than 100% adherence to this very basic standard. Yet, there will be extenuating circumstances that may prevent someone from performing hand hygiene, so 100% compliance may not be achievable.
Patient safety also means proactively seeking out things that can put a patient at risk, and then making sure actions are taken to prevent tragedy. This can be as basic as ensuring rugs aren’t likely to trip visitors, or making everyone aware that a patient needs a mobility aid if you see them come through the front door with a cane or a wheelchair. The rule: See something, tell somebody.
2. Relaying important information to patients.
Patients have their own responsibilities when it comes to ensuring their safety before, during and after surgery: not eating or drinking after midnight the day prior, arranging for a responsible adult to drive them home from the center, and the like. But surgery center staff must effectively communicate this information to patients in order to guarantee compliance. In addition to a patient brochure and detailed information outlined on the website, ASC staff should call patients prior to surgery to verify information and stress the importance of following protocol before and after their procedure. Patient engagement solutions like automated phone calls and text reminders are a great help here, too.
3. Encouraging an honest and open relationship with patients.
It can certainly be difficult to share details regarding health concerns and lifestyle choices with a clinician; these highly private matters are often associated with feelings of embarrassment or of being judged. But there is a reason nurses and doctors ask patients to provide certain information, from past illnesses and hospitalizations, to current alcohol consumption and medications - even of the “recreational” kind. Honest answers are critical to providing safe care, and in an ASC setting can, for example, be especially important when figuring out how much and what kind of anesthesia is needed for surgery. Ultimately, dishonesty only serves to negatively impact procedural and recovery success.
Patient safety should never be taken lightly; it is of the utmost importance when it comes to delivering the highest quality of care, and ASCs can facilitate it in the same manner they would any other business or clinical protocol. Implement and monitor the procedures. Identify areas for improvement and take action. Form open relationships with patients in order to develop trust and truthfulness. And make sure everyone is aware of their responsibilities and how they affect the entire process — patients included. Good communication can assist in achieving all of these things, and ensuring your center keeps its patients safe.