This is what leadership looks like. It comes in the form of an email from Michael D. Howell, MD, MPH, our Director of Critical Care Quality and Associate Director of Medical Critical Care, to the ICU nurses, house staff, fellows, pharmacists, respiratory therapists, and attending physicians. Without these kind of champions throughout the hospital, the CEO's job is impossible.
Fifty days. No splashes in any of the nine adult ICUs.
For those I haven’t met (welcome, new interns and fellows!), I’m the Director of Critical Care Quality and one of the ICU docs. In the past, I’ve written about our work to improve patient safety (90% reduction in central line infections, etc), speed delivery of critical medications to our patients (70% reduction in time-to-first-dose antibiotics), and more recently about work we’re doing to improve the experience for patients and families in critical care. Today, though, I’m writing about your safety.
Most of you will have noticed the box in the upper right corner of the Portal [note: our intranet home page] that lists the number of days since an employee injury. You’ve probably noticed that it’s always zero, meaning that one of our colleagues is hurt every day. I’ve been sort of agitated by that, and a few months ago we set it as one of the major improvement priorities for critical care.
As our first target for improvement, we sought the elimination of exposure to bloodborne pathogens by splashes. If you or a friend has ever gotten blood in your eye, you know it’s unpleasant, shocking, and scary. Some of our colleagues have, in fact, even been exposed to HIV and hepatitis this way. We know that nearly all exposures from splashes should be preventable by using personal protective equipment. And yet, before we started our work, someone got splashed about every week or two in our ICUs.
Many of you have participated as we began to try to figure out how to prevent these. Here are a few things we learned:
· ABGs and accessing arterial lines are especially risky procedures. In January alone we had *five* splashes from this mechanism.
· Glasses don’t offer adequate protection. Many people have gotten blood in their eyes (or mouth) while wearing their own eyeglasses.
· Splashes happen at unexpected times: disconnecting a Foley, flushing a PICC line, suctioning an ET tube, and being in the room while someone else was doing as ABG – people have been splashed in all of these ways.
Yesterday, though, we crossed an important threshold -- it has been fifty days since our last splash exposure in any of our nine adult ICUs. That’s definite, meaningful progress. Distribution tells us we’ve more than doubled our mask usage, and in some cases they have even had trouble keeping up with demand. That’s because of your work.
From my own practice, I know that it can be irritating and sometimes challenging to put on a mask and visor every time you’re doing something with a patient. But look at it this way: If we’d done things like we used to, we would have expected three to five more of our colleagues to have gotten blood splashed in their eyes during this time period. Instead, no one did.
I want to make a special request of those of you who are more senior, with lots of ICU experience: Please watch out for your junior colleagues, and if they are forgetting to wear a mask with visor, please remind them. Remember also that you set an extraordinarily powerful example with your own practice. By not wearing a mask, you may unconsciously be training your more junior colleagues to put themselves at risk.
Finally, I want to say ‘thanks’ to everyone who is helping with this, and particularly to Sabrina Cannistraro who is helping to lead the project, analyze the data, and coordinate the work. We will keep focused on splashes for the next several months, and once we’ve convincingly eliminated them we’ll begin to focus on needlesticks, lift injuries, and other challenges to our own safety.
As always, feel free to send comments, questions, and rebuttals directly to me, and please forward to anyone I’ve omitted.