Discovering the Scope of the Problem

February 16, 2018

As I began to research the topic of preventable medical errors after personally experiencing one, I discovered I was among millions of people that year who suffered from a completely preventable mistake while in a hospital.  At least I was not one of the hundreds of thousands documented deaths that year resulting from a preventable medical error.

These astounding statistics, first revealed in 1999 when the Institute of Medicine published its report, To Err is Human, have only gotten more shocking over the past 17 years. A September 2013 article in the Journal of Patient Safety estimated that more than 15 million patients are harmed and over 400,000 patients die every year from preventable medical errors. 1 That’s equivalent to killing every resident in the city of Miami, Florida, this year, then the population of Sacramento, California, next year, and so on.

As I looked into the scope of medical errors, I became aware of and somewhat overwhelmed by the magnitude of the problems in healthcare. How could I (or anyone else, for that matter) ever tackle such a massive challenge? But there’s an old saying that when the student is ready, the teacher appears.

On one of the days I was recovering in the hospital I heard the renowned psychologist Martin Seligman being interviewed on Good Morning America. He was announcing a new science devoted to understanding optimal human functioning. Dr. Seligman, known as “the father of Positive Psychology,” explained how he had brought researchers from around the world together to study individuals and organizations who had achieved an extraordinarily high level of functioning.

I had an epiphany that morning. I knew in my healing heart that this emerging science might hold the key to transforming healthcare. Rather than studying dysfunctional individuals, teams, and organizations, Positive Psychology explored the other end of the continuum—human beings who had achieved satisfaction with their life and success in their workplace. I committed then and there to using this new form of research to learn how the best hospitals, most respected healthcare providers and outstanding administrators attained remarkable results. I wanted to teach those lessons to healthcare professionals and organizations who desire to experience that level of success as well.

Unfortunately, many healthcare providers have given up trying to change their workplaces. According to Gallup research, 50 percent of hospital employees report being “disengaged” (doing the minimum to get by) and nearly 20 percent identify being as “actively disengaged” (voicing their unhappiness and bringing everybody down).2 These numbers are reflected in outpatient clinics, rehabilitation centers and nursing homes, too. That leaves about one in three employees engaged in their jobs. No wonder healthcare is struggling—only 30 percent of people are aligned with their organization’s goals and working diligently to achieve them.

There is a perfect storm brewing in healthcare. The typical healthcare organization is under-performing, according to Becker’s Hospital Review, due to the fact that 70 percent of staff are doing the minimum to get by or sabotaging their leader’s efforts.3 But the need for effective healthcare will continue exploding as the more than 77 million baby boomers hit their 60s and 70s. Add to that the staffing reductions caused by reimbursement cuts and you have a recipe for disaster—and a desperate need to turn things around.

How desperate?  Nationwide, there are more than:

  • 3 million registered nurses. Three out of four cited stress and overwork as causing major health concerns in 2011 survey by the American Nurses Association. 4
  • 900,000 physicians – 46 percent of whom reported they had burnout on a 2015 Medscape survey.5
  • 6,000 hospitals and medical centers that, according to a 2015 NSI Nursing Solutions report, had a 17 percent average RN turnover rate. With an average cost of $48,000 to replace just one nurse, the typical hospital loses more than $6 million per year due to turnover. 6


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