Patients benefit when hospitals initiate ongoing quality improvements

St. Elizabeth’s Quality Facilitator Kelly Brent, RN, BSN, CPHQ, CPPS, shares one of the project results with an emergency department team member. (Submitted Photo)

In health care, quality matters because lives are at stake. Additionally, in the ever-changing health care landscape, economic factors for patients and hospitals continue to change rapidly. So, an ongoing focus on ways to improve the delivery of care through timely and accessible programs is imperative to seeing the best outcomes. 

HSHS St. Elizabeth’s Hospital, in O’Fallon, has put quality improvements in the forefront within their new facility. The hospital recently held a Quality and Process Improvement event that showcased recent projects from a variety of areas within the facility from the past six months or more. The entire event was developed and led by Kelly Brent, RN, BSN, CPHQ, CPPS, Quality Facilitator at St. Elizabeth’s.  

While quality improvement projects occur all the time, this was the first time the projects were put on display for all colleagues, physicians and even visitors to see. There was overwhelming participation and positive outcomes from the event so the hospital is planning to make it an annual event. 

“An ongoing focus on quality ensures we are delivering life-saving care to our patients and having the projects on display spread awareness, knowledge sharing and enthusiasm to employees (both clinical and non-clinical),” said Carrie Erlinger, Director of Quality, Risk and Patient Safety at St. Elizabeth’s Hospital. “The idea behind doing a deep-dive into quality improvement projects throughout the facility is to constantly bolster and fine-tune our delivery of care through collaborations with our colleagues, physicians and other care providers.”

An additional outcome all of the projects being on display was that it allowed for colleagues from various areas of the hospital to see what other departments are working on and how they implemented solutions. During the event, there were a lot of ‘a-ha’ moments from colleagues who could see the usefulness of a project translating to their workflow, as well.

Process improvement in health care facilities, such as St. Elizabeth’s, benefit patients through decreased mortality and morbidity with earlier diagnosis of certain diseases that can reduce stays. In addition, some of the throughput projects outline timesaving processes that improve the overall patient experience when accessing care. 

Erlinger notes that, “The region can see we are dedicated to efficiently managing and delivering high-level care and are always striving to do better.”

Performance initiatives were identified and investigated by various departments with the overall goal of determining opportunities to improve quality outcomes, health care, workflow, and increasing patient satisfaction and safety. The collaborative efforts included front line colleagues, supervisors, managers, and physicians. 

A total of 29 projects were completed, spanning all areas of service and specialty. Some of the topics included: fall prevention, improved discharge processes, nurse driven telemetry protocols, peak census planning, and many more. The project around reducing Clostridium difficile (C. difficile) infections resulted in a 65% reduction of the infection for the past fiscal year. 

Another example of a recent process improvement project that has shown significant success is around sepsis. Sepsis is a potentially life-threatening complication of blood that can take a life in only a few hours and accounts for nearly $24 billion in annual health care costs, according to a 2016 study from the Healthcare Cost and Utilization project. 

The sepsis quality improvement team implemented protocols and communication processes centered around identifying potential sepsis patients upon admission. Emergency department colleagues at St. Elizabeth’s are able to maximize every minute from when a patient is transported to the hospital through when emergency care is administered. 

“We only have a short window of time to identify and treat sepsis. Early identification and rapid treatment are essential so our team quickly screens for the disease, identifies symptoms and orders necessary lab tests and treatments immediately,” Erlinger said. 

Since implementation of these improved processes of identification and rapid treatment protocols, the hospital has reduced the sepsis mortality rate by approximately 36%.