Will you go the extra mile – or two – to protect your employees from harm?

Would you drive 1.8 miles to save the life of one of your employees? Of course you would, given the chance. But every day, arbitrary choices may send your workers to a poor-quality hospital, instead of a safer one nearby, endangering their lives.

Medical errors are now the third leading cause of death in the United States – killing more Americans than stroke, AIDS and car accidents, combined. A recent study published in The BMJ, using Leapfrog hospital safety ratings, found that 250,000 people each year, nearly the population of Orlando, die each year from mistakes at hospitals.


For instance, one hospital in Chicago with an A safety rating, has lower-than-expected rates of life-threatening central line infections for post-surgical patients. Meanwhile, 1.8 miles away, at a Chicago hospital with a D safety rating, the rate of central line infections is nearly six times higher.


What’s particularly regrettable is that most of these mistakes could be avoided, if only insurers and self-insured employers demanded that providers meet quality and safety standards in order to be included in their coverage networks.


In the past, self-insured employers were at the mercy of providers. Workers demanded access to a broad panel of physicians and doctors, and employers sought to include as many as they could in their networks. Providing unlimited choice through PPOs has long been considered a perk of employment. But like free donuts on Fridays, some perks do more harm than good. Broad-panel PPOs are certainly one striking example.


No employer wants to tell their employees they have to switch cardiologists, or have their baby at a different hospital than they had planned. But we now have too much data not to act on it.


Employers DO have the chance to save a life by redirecting care to the safest hospitals and doctors.  To be sure, employees will have to be educated, so they don’t feel they are deprived of “choice”. They will need to understand that their employer is replacing sub-standard care with the best care for their family.


One takeaway from the article is how little some poor-safety hospitals have improved on reducing certain errors in recent years. Why is this? A lack of accountability and consequences. By voting with their feet, employers can do more than simply protect their own employees from harm. They can also raise the bar for the health care ecosystem across the board.


That’s because hospitals and providers, pressured to increase volume to satisfy new risk-bearing payment agreements, will have no choice but to address safety problems to regain their place in your high-performance network. So your workers may eventually be able to return to the care of their preferred providers – if they still want to - once the providers have significantly improved their safety ratings.


Even better news for workers is that they will no longer have to scour the internet or ask their friends for the name of a “good” pediatrician or allergist. They can feel secure in the knowledge that ANY doctor they choose has been hand-selected by their employer for high-quality care. And when they see news articles about medical errors as a leading cause of death, they will no longer worry that their doctor or hospital could be one of the worst offenders.

Rick AbbottComment