Using a Stoplight System to Prioritize Patient Safety Goals

In an environment as complex as a hospital, patient safety problems can arise every day. Hospitals need a standard system to effectively prioritize these problems and address them appropriately. Advocate Lutheran General Hospital in Park Ridge, Ill., uses a stoplight system to quickly and effectively respond to each patient safety concern, according to Michael McKenna, MD, vice president of medical management and CMO of the hospital.

A stoplight system can help hospitals address patient safety issues efficiently.Lutheran General executives conduct daily safety rounds in which they talk with front-line workers about their safety concerns. Under the stoplight system, patient safety concerns are categorized as red, yellow or green depending on the ability of the hospital to address the concern.


•    Green. Green safety concerns are those that can be addressed immediately. For example, a low supply of soap in a department, which jeopardizes hand hygiene compliance, can be quickly remedied by restocking the dispensers and assigning someone to restock the soap on a regular basis.

•    Yellow. Yellow safety concerns can be addressed in about three to six months. For example, delays in communication among clinicians may require new technology to facilitate communication. For instance, Lutheran General implemented a rules-based communication system to prevent delays in communication and improve safety during care transitions. This safety problem would be classified as yellow because while a solution is possible, implementing and transitioning to the technology may take several months, according to Dr. McKenna.

•    Red. Safety concerns designated as red are very difficult or impossible to address currently, due to capital, time or manpower needs. For instance, preventing readmissions may require the hospital to establish new data capturing capabilities in its electronic health record, conduct data analytics and develop targeted strategies based on the analysis. A hospital with little IT and financial resources may not be able to immediately use this solution.
Dr. Michael McKenna is CMO of Advocate Lutheran General Hospital.
Most patient safety concerns tend to be green and yellow, with red problems occurring only rarely, according to Dr. McKenna. Regardless of the assigned color, hospital leaders need to follow up with staff and physicians to communicate action plans. "Take concerns seriously and make plans to fix them as soon as possible," he says.

Classifying each safety concern according to a standardized system and following up with front-line workers ensures no safety problem falls through the cracks and can improve employee satisfaction, according to Dr. McKenna.

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