Improving patient safety: Costs and effects count

Health economist Dr. Rebecca Warburton is analyzing the costs and effects of interventions to reduce the accidental harm caused by health care. Her research aims to provide a rational basis for establishing priorities among policies and programs for reducing errors. The US Institute of Medicine’s estimate that 44,000 to 98,000 Americans die every year as a result of preventable hospital mistakes has raised public awareness of errors in health care and focused attention on reducing risks and harm to patients. However, most Canadian hospitals are overwhelmed by the number of safety improvements suggested by experts or demanded by regulatory bodies. Limited resources, and lack of information about the likely costs and benefits of proposed changes, means that few safety strategies are actually implemented, and most changes are not well evaluated. Dr. Warburton’s research, conducted in partnership with the Vancouver Island Health Authority, compares the costs of patient safety improvements with the outcomes in terms of standard units such as life-years or quality-adjusted life years gained. Before joining the University of Victoria in 1999, Dr. Warburton spent 11 years in policy and research positions with the BC Ministry of Health. She is currently assessing the effectiveness of BC’s Premium Assistance Program, which subsidizes medical premiums for low-income residents, and assisting in the evaluation of BC’s Clinical Practice Guidelines and Protocols.