Which of the myriad things we worry about should we elevate to action?

A tooth that feels odd but doesn’t hurt, a light fixture that flickers but stays lit, brakes that vibrate but stop the car safely. Amidst the noise in our everyday lives we are constantly trying to identify meaningful signals: those that deserve our full attention. When one of those dozens of things we were a little bit worried about happens, we think we should have known that that was the signal we should have paid attention to. Hindsight raises our expectations.

For health care providers, figuring out where to focus time and energy for incipient patient safety concerns is a conundrum: once a reasonable risk enters our consciousness, then it seems irresponsible to ignore it. The solution is not to attempt to fix everything, but to prioritize thoughtfully.

By prioritizing risks, we can sustain fruitful improvement processes. Prioritization requires assessment: your bothersome tooth might fail before your car’s brakes, but the potential outcomes are dramatically different.

Health care leaders striving to mitigate patient harm need a systematized assessment process—they can’t just react to the most recent adverse event or article highlighting a potential risk. They also require data… but need to get past the hindrances of “big data” where discriminating signals from noise is typically a herculean task.

For health care leaders trying to determine which patient safety signals to follow and where to allocate time and resources, CRICO’s latest benchmarking report, Medical Malpractice in America, is an excellent starting point. While it may be just a first step toward better understanding what you should be worried about, it will point you in the right direction.

And then get that tooth checked.

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