Six Countries Meet on WHOs High 5s Project to Improve Patient Safety in Hospitals

OAKBROOK TERRACE, Ill. -- In a unique display of international patient safety collaboration, the top health leaders from Canada, Germany, the Netherlands, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States will meet today in Washington, D.C. to sign a letter of intent to support efforts to advance the global patient safety agenda through engagement in a special World Health Organization (WHO) Action on Patient Safety Initiative. The collaborative initiative, known familiarly as the High 5s Project, seeks to improve the safety of patients around the world.  The Project is being coordinated by the WHO Collaborating Centre, which is led by The Joint Commision and Joint Commission International, in partnership with the WHO World Alliance for Patient Safety and the Commonwealth Fund.

The centerpiece of the High 5s Project involves the development and implementation of standardized operating protocols (SOPs) to address five widespread patient safety problems in the participating countries and elsewhere. The SOPs will seek to:

-- Promote effective management of concentrated injectable medicines.

-- Assure medication accuracy at transitions in care.

-- Improve communications during patient care handovers.

-- Assure performance of the correct procedure at the correct body site.

-- Promote improved hand hygiene to prevent healthcare-associated infections.

 Four of the five SOPs have been finalized and approved by the participating countries.  The fifth will be finalized within the next month. Once in place, the SOPs are expected to have broad impacts in preventing avoidable deaths and serious injuries in hospitals.

The High 5s Project has developed five standard operating protocols to address five significant patient safety problems. These protocols will be used in hospitals in the partner countries, over the next five years and their impact will be monitored, says Sir Liam Donaldson, chief medical officer of England and chair of the WHO World Alliance for Patient Safety. The interest and commitment being shown by the participating countries to implement these solutions is inspiring. Over the years to come, risks to patients will be reduced, lives will be saved and many lessons learned as a result of the High 5s action being initiated in WashingtonD.C., today, he added.

The Project also involves the elaboration of a sophisticated impact evaluation strategy that will assess not only the degree to which patient safety vulnerabilities have been eliminated but also the economic and cultural impacts of the SOPs at the hospital level. Project implementation is targeted for late summer of 2008, with the expectation that its impacts will be assessed over a five-year period.  Volunteer hospitals will be invited to share their experiences and lessons learned with each other over time through an electronic learning community. It is anticipated that the learning experience will lead to continuing refinements to the SOPs over the project period.

This initiative is best characterized as an applied research project in standardizing patient care processes to improve patient safety, and in evaluating the impacts thereof, says Dennis S. O'Leary, MD, president of The Joint Commission. The challenges and opportunities inherent in this initiative have created great excitement and enthusiasm among the participating countries.

Hospitals participating in the High 5s Project will be advancing safe patient care processes by creating an international learning laboratory that facilitates understanding of the underlying causes of adverse events and indicator events and their potential control by standardized operating protocols, says Karen H. Timmons, president and chief executive officer of Joint Commission International. Special toolkits, training, and ongoing education will be provided to hospitals to support effective implementation of the protocols.

The commitment of Health Ministers to this patient safety effort is a significant step toward achieving a high performance health system in each country. This unique collaboration also promises to serve as a model for fostering cross-national exchange and policy learning, says Karen Davis, president of the Commonwealth Fund.

WHO designated The Joint Commission and Joint Commission International as its Collaborating Centre on Patient Safety in 2005. The High 5s Project is being overseen and led by a High 5s Steering Committee that is made up of patient safety officials from each of the participating countries.

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