Teamwork is the answer, says patient safety expert

Better teamwork is the next great step on the path to reducing medical errors, renowned patient safety expert Dr. Lucian Leape told the 2009 graduates of the USF College of Medicine at Friday’s commencement.

“Until now, and I am delighted to see the University of South Florida changing that, it’s not the way we have taught,” said Dr. Leape as he gave Friday’s commencement address. “In teams, you create a product much better than the sum of its parts.”

Dr. Leape, an adjunct professor of health policy at the Harvard School of Public Health, is one of the founders of the National Patient Safety Foundation and an author of the landmark 1999 Institute of Medicine report on medical errors. He has written more than 125 papers on quality of care and patient safety.

Dr. Leape praised USF Health for having medicine, public health, nursing and physical therapy under one roof.

Teamwork is so important that only the founding principle of the patient safety movement ranks before it, Dr. Leape told the graduates. Throughout his career, Dr. Leape has stressed that the blame for medical errors should not fall on individual health providers. Instead, medical errors often are rooted in system failures.

“The driving concept in patient safety is that people make errors because they’re human, but not because they’re bad,” Dr. Leape said.

Dr. Lucian Leape chats Friday morning with USF leaders at the graduation breakfast. L to R: Dr. Louis Saco, CEO and chairman of the Watson Clinic; Dr. Stephen Klasko, CEO of USF Health and dean of the College of Medicine; Dr. Leape; and Dr. Peter J. Fabri, associate deanĀ of graduate medical education.

In an interview before his speech, Dr. Leape praised USF Health for its innovation in starting an interdisciplinary course on patient safety last year.

“This has been the big learning,” Dr. Leape said. “Safety comes from people working together in teams, where everybody brings a different perspective. It’s something we haven’t done in the past.”

The course is co-directed by Dr. Peter J. Fabri, associate dean of graduate medical education, and Jay Wolfson, USF associate vice president of health law, policy and safety.

Dr. Leape began his address by charging USF’s graduates to remember that their work is “a sacred trust.”

“It is your responsibility to justify that trust,” he told them.

Dr. Leape, who graduated from medical school 50 years ago this month, said his generation didn’t foresee how critical and far-reaching the problem of medical errors would be. But now, he said, he hopes this generation of graduates can envision a time when medical errors will no longer happen.

“You are coming into the profession at a time when we have more power than ever before to do more good than ever before,” he said.

Dr. Leape prepares for the USF College of Medicine commencement ceremony.

Already, Dr. Leape said, he sees hospitals who have worked so hard on patient safety that their patients do not get central line infections or ventilator-associated pneumonia.

“We know that safe health care is not yet within our grasp,” he said. “It is within our sight.”

— Story and photos by Lisa Greene, USF Health Communications