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Closing the Gap on Medical Errors & Communications Failures

A recent report, “Communication Failures Linked to 1,744 Deaths in 5 Years,” documents that communication failures totaled $1.7 billion in malpractice costs, and were a factor in 30 percent of malpractice cases. And this is likely just the tip of the miscommunication iceberg since that report only looked at malpractice cases. The Joint Commission estimates that miscommunication among medical staff while transferring patients contributed to 80 percent of serious medical errors. How do we move the needle in medical errors and miscommunication to better serve patients and help save lives?


“Up to 50 percent of preventable medical errors are related to a breakdown in communication,” says Dr. William Maples, executive director of the Institute for Healthcare Excellence. “The key to decreasing preventable medical errors is to build a culture of safety which is rooted in effective, authentic, and compassionate communication. As the complexity of medicine increases, there is a greater need for teams to work effectively together with the patient at the center of the team to maximize outcomes and safety. This requires a culture of trust where every member of the team feels safe to share what he/she is observing as the team navigates through a care pathway. At the root of building this trust is effective, open, honest, and authentic communication between all members of the team.”

Most healthcare providers do not receive any formal or focused training in communications, yet by learning a few basic skills such as mindfulness and being present, physicians can not only improve outcomes but can also significantly improve the patient experience.

Dr. Maples and the team at The Institute have seen the results improved communications training can have.

Contact us now and see if we can help you too. 

IHE Honors Mission Health with its First Culture of Excellence Award


The Institute for Healthcare Excellence recognizes Mission Health for its unwavering commitment to building a culture of excellence with a foundation of outstanding communication, teamwork, and patient-centered care. 

William M. Maples, M.D., Executive Director and Chief Experience Officer of The Institute for Healthcare Excellence (IHE), presented the Institute’s first Culture of Excellence Award to Mission Health. The health system’s President & CEO Ronald A. Paulus, M.D., accepted the honor on behalf of the Mission Health team.

Under the leadership of Dr. Paulus, the people of Mission Health have created an environment where everything they do for patients every day has a chance to flourish and succeed. The culture of excellence that has taken root at Mission Health has enabled it to provide the highest quality of patient care and the best possible outcomes while ensuring the safety of patients and caregivers. It’s a culture that introduces and innovates efficiencies, eliminates waste and finds ways to deliver high-quality care at a lower cost. Wrapped around all of this are two invaluable and intertwined emphases. First, this Asheville, North Carolina-based health system creates excellent experiences for patients. Just as important, Mission Health fosters an environment that puts joy back into the practice of medicine for caregivers — an environment that replaces the agony of burnout with the hope of renewal.

“Focusing on the experience of the patient is paramount when seeking to continuously improve how we deliver care — it’s our most sensitive quality measure,” Dr. Paulus said. “We also believe that it’s past time to extend that focus on providing the best possible experience to our caregivers, as well.” He noted that high-performing healthcare organizations understand that excellence is a journey, not an endpoint. “We’ll always be striving to deliver a perfect experience, but we know that what’s most important is putting one foot in front of the other each and every day of the journey — that’s the key to getting where you want to be.”

He credits the team at Mission Health for living the values that leads to a culture of excellence. “Leaders can’t achieve outcomes — they can only create an environment that enables people to use their,strengths to be their very best,” he noted. “It’s the nurses, physicians, environmental service technicians, finance staff and others who do their jobs with compassion and skill every day that make recognitions like this possible.”

How does Mission Health excel in a marketplace that demands that health systems deliver excellent care with fewer dollars? How does Mission Health achieve excellence despite the significant challenges it faces from a behavioral health population that creates incredible strains within the organization because the resources to care for many of these patients simply don’t exist? It starts at the top.

For starters, Mission Health accepts nothing less than excellence. Dr. Paulus sets the bar high, but he has the vision to make sure that his team has the tools and resources it needs to get the job done. He and his leadership team have created the right infrastructure to empower caregivers to treat patients with dignity and respect and the most advanced care possible. At Mission Health, effective communication promotes teamwork, empathy and safety. And best practice decisions are based on real patient responses and quantifiable data. With current, customized research, Mission Health’s improvement team addresses the key drivers that influence individual and group performance, proving that, when organizations measures excellence, they can achieve excellence.

The care that Mission Health delivers is effective because it is a living extension of its culture of excellence. Over the past five or so years that Mission Health has partnered with PRC to gather the data that drive difference-making decisions, it has dramatically improved its patient experience scores, climbing from the 60th percentile to the top 15 percent — and staying there. It has become a leader in patient and staff safety, rising from the bottom 25 to the top 25 percent. It has promoted transparency and trust. And it has ranked among the top 25 to 10 percent of all providers on nearly every performance metric.

Mission Health’s excellence has not been overlooked. In 2015, Truven Health Analytics named it one of the top five medium-sized health systems in the country. It is the only health system in the nation of any size to be named a Truven Health Analytics Top 15 Health System for four consecutive years, and the only health system in North Carolina ever to achieve Top 15 recognition.

Specifically, Truven Health Analytics recognized the Mission Health system for lowering the cost per episode of care, reducing complications, improving both patient safety and adherence to core measures of care, and increasing survival rates. As a matter of fact, Mission Health saw more than a 40 percent reduction in risk-adjusted mortality. In human terms, what that means is that Mission Health is saving 550 more lives a year than it has in the past, proving beyond the shadow of a doubt that excellence is not an abstract concept — it’s one more mom going home after being hit by a drunk driver, one more son or daughter going home in remission, one more grandpa making it to his grandchild’s high school graduation.

Dr. Paulus and the team at Mission Health don’t just understand excellence. They live it every day. And that’s why Mission Health earned the first Culture of Excellence Award from The Institute for Healthcare Excellence.

Download our case study to learn more about how Mission Health achieves a culture of excellence.

The Institute for Healthcare Excellence & The World Medical Association

This month, our faculty worked with the 30 physicians and leaders from the World Medical Association. We presented our Communication in Healthcare curriculum and our Relationship-Centered Leadership principles. It was exciting and inspiring to see how important this work is to patient relationships colleague relationships, as well as how it impacts the safety and outcomes of our patients.