Emory Report
April 7, 2008
Volume 60, Number 26


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April 7, 2008
The habit of quality helps reduce errors

Fred Sanfilippo is executive vice president for health affairs, CEO of the Woodruff Health Sciences Center and chairman of Emory Healthcare.

“Quality is not an act; it is a habit.” Aristotle wrote those words centuries ago, but they still ring true — especially here in the Woodruff Health Sciences Center. On Feb. 29, I had the special opportunity to join 700 of our faculty and staff who participated in the Emory Healthcare Quality Conference. This event, featuring three outstanding guest speakers, was part of a comprehensive, ongoing quality initiative that is working to ensure outstanding patient safety, outcomes and service.

For two days preceding the conference, I also participated in the Quality Academy, which is a series of courses aimed at helping leaders throughout the health sciences learn the concepts and tools needed to measure, assess and improve quality of care. Both the Quality Academy and the Quality Conference were enlightening and inspirational events, and what we learned at both is an undeniable truth: Health care is a high-stress, multi-tasking environment that is rife with opportunities for error.

Of course, it’s only human to make mistakes. But many studies indicate that such mistakes are responsible for between 50,000 and 100,000 unnecessary patient deaths each year. That’s why we need to ensure that processes and systems are in place to help eliminate the potential for human error, that we deal fairly and justly with colleagues who make mistakes, and that we view each as an opportunity to learn and improve.

Taking its cues from industry, the quality initiative is building processes that would make it virtually impossible to not do the right things. Process improvement techniques have helped the airline industry achieve a remarkable level of safety in transportation, and they can help us achieve safety in patient care.

While the Quality Conference and Academy addressed the issues of quality and safety primarily in the health care setting, the principles they taught are really applicable more broadly. Efforts include providing superior customer service, eliminating waste, and continually seeking ways to improve. Whether we are faculty, staff or students, we can all adapt many of these same principles to improve the quality of our own performance.

If you’d like to learn more about our quality initiative, a series of excellent poster presentations originally shared at the conference are on display in the Woodruff Health Sciences Center Administration Building through April 11. I encourage you to come by and see some of the many ways our faculty, staff and students are working to improve quality and transform health and healing.

We welcome your feedback on our quality initiative. Please share your thoughts with me at evphafeedback@emory.edu.