Billions of dollars and tens of thousands of lives are lost annually nationwide to medical mistakes that could have been prevented by patient safety practices.

Sensory overload, punitive procedures and confusion with or constantly transitioning leadership can adversely affect patients and medical professionals.

Patient safety is paramount to the staff and leadership at Carl R. Darnall Army Medical Center. So important, in fact, the hospital and clinics held a stand-down day to learn more about the subject and individuals' roles in creating a safe patient environment.

In an effort to share best practices, medical professionals from across the military and surrounding communities met March 10 at the Killeen Civic and Convention Center for the second annual Culture of Patient Safety Symposium.

"Not only can we improve patient safety (at Darnall) but we are hoping the community learns some best practices as well," hospital commander Col. Steve Braverman said.

Doctors, dentists, nurses, administrators and students discussed ways to improve patient safety not only in operating rooms and during procedures, but also by providing safe environments, physical security and overall health promotion.

Every position in the hospital from maintenance to administration plays a role in patient safety.

"Ninety-nine percent of the time, communication is one of the issues," Braverman said.

Open communication and working to fix issues instead of placing blame can help improve patient safety across the board.

Changing the system that is flawed instead of focusing on individual mistakes is a first step.

"In (the Department of Defense), we know readiness is key," Heidi King, deputy director, DoD Patient Safety Program, said.

Enabling a ready medical force, promoting resiliency in the staff and providing the right care at the right time are keys to patient safety, King said.

Teamwork, training and education combined with strong frontline leadership and integrating safe practices into normal operation enhances patient safety.

"When the staff is educated, they are more likely to follow procedures and take action," Col. William Grimes, Chief of Staff, Darnall, said.

Mistakes can still happen. When they do, patients needs answers, Col. Kimberly Kesling, deputy commander for clinical services at Darnall, said.

"Patients want to be heard," Kesling said. "They need an honest explanation, an apology and reassurance that the problem has been fixed."

At Darnall, staff members work to provide a safe environment through preparedness and training.
Grimes listed several close calls that did not become disasters because Darnall staff followed established protocols. These close calls include a thwarted infant abduction, an accidentally triggered alarm that was quickly responded to by law enforcement agencies and a gas leak.

"It's about an environment of care staff," Grimes said. "It's not just key leaders on teams, but also housekeepers, industrial hygiene personnel and the linens manager."

Those training to fill roles at the hospital and clinics are part of the team too.

Students from the nursing program at Central Texas College attended the symposium to learn more about patient safety.

"Patient safety starts with the first semester of school," student Alice Deapen said. "Communication (among medical teams) is important because it does make a difference."