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Strength in Numbers: CERT Partnerships Promote Patient Safety

Strength in Numbers: CERT Partnerships Promote Patient Safety
By Shelley Norden Barnes


This is the first in a series of articles featuring the CERT centers and unique partners who help disseminate their work.

The UIC CERT and the National Patient Safety Foundation

On a campus in downtown Chicago, a team of researchers from the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) Center for Education and Research on Therapeutics (CERT) is finding ways to decrease computer-based prescription errors that threaten patient safety. Meanwhile, colleagues at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and other CERT sites are engaged in similar efforts. Their collective research has the potential to save lives and increase patient safety across the country, providing they share their work on a scale broad enough to make a difference. Luckily, the National Patient Safety Foundation (NPSF) is among the dissemination partners helping to do just that. With the help of Mark Hornbrook, Ph.D., principal investigator of the CERT Scientific Forum in Oregon, and Bruce Lambert, Ph.D., principal investigator of the UIC CERT, the NPSF is disseminating this research through its online newsletter and other communication channels to ensure that the word gets out.

“Bruce Lambert has been a longstanding part of the NPSF family. He was awarded one of our first grants when we were established in 1997, and our partnership has strengthened over time,” says Diane Pinakiewicz, who recently stepped down as president of NPSF and now serves as a distinguished adviser. “The NPSF newsletter offers broad dissemination of safety information, with thousands of key stakeholders in our database, so we’re using our connections and networks to promote the work on medication safety because we support what the CERTs do.”

It is partnerships like this that create the synergy needed to ensure that critical information on patient safety is being shared with those in a position to effect change.  All CERTs seek such synergies with public and private partners to disseminate, translate, implement, and extend their findings and thereby improve the quality of health care.

Partners in National Patient Safety

The NPSF works to improve the safety of patients in the U.S. health care system. As a central voice in the field, NPSF has a broad network that includes all stakeholder groups.  NPSF also has multiple dissemination channels—from the online newsletter, which featured the CERTs work in its June issue, to its annual congress, the only meeting in the United States that focuses specifically on patient safety.

“The 2012 NPSF congress drew 1,400 safety experts and key stakeholders from across the country who had the opportunity to hear about the CERTs research on medication safety,” noted Pinakiewicz. “We want to use our connections and networks to ensure that everyone in our reach knows what the CERTs are doing.”

Of the many aspects of patient safety, medication prescription and dispensing errors and misuse are some of the most critical in terms of increased patient morbidity, poor outcomes, and avoidable costs. Several of the CERTs conducted research on the use of electronic medical records in clinical settings to identify areas of risk in digital medication prescribing. As a result, they have developed tools to assess and improve the use of computerized information systems to reduce prescription medication errors. This problem-solving approach to real and potential health care hazards could significantly improve patient outcomes, prevent expenditures to treat the adverse effects of medication errors, and bolster patient safety for future generations. That’s why the NPSF is also interested in getting news of the CERTs research out to its key constituents.

“We’re the voice of patients, providers, academics, researchers, and CEOs of companies that create and distribute products in the health care system, among others; we’re involved in all constituent groups,” Pinakiewicz emphasized. “Improving patient safety is our only agenda, and they know that. We are mission focused and supportive of all work being done that helps move patient safety forward. NPSF has always been viewed as balanced and objective.” This singular focus conveys a level of credibility that makes the NPSF a desirable dissemination partner, especially for the CERT Scientific Forum that coordinates the research underway at the various CERT locations.

Mark C. Hornbrook was lead author on “Health IT and Patient Safety,” an article highlighting the CERTs research on electronic medical records and prescription errors.

“The NPSF advocates for patients and safe medical care in a balanced way. It’s a voice that speaks for patients who are often lost when they experience adverse medical events,” says Hornbrook. “They put out mature, competent communications to a very diverse audience—those who have their antennae up for patient safety.”

As a key conduit for CERTs research, Hornbrook recognizes the importance of partnering with like-minded organizations that actively share key research and tools with the greater health care community. These, he points out, are the stakeholders who can help raise the awareness needed to eventually get these CERT tools into practice—first through professional and clinical meetings, then into professional journals and continuing medical education programs, and ultimately into health care practices and systems. To do this, , Hornbrook and his CERT colleagues must cultivate partnerships that reach a broad and diverse audience including patients and consumers, health care practitioners and other providers of health care goods or services, pharmacists, pharmacy benefit managers, purchasers, health care insurers,  health maintenance and other group health organizations, and government agencies. 

“We like to point people looking at safety literature to sources like the NPSF newsletter to help show that our research is evidence based and ready to be applied in practice,” Hornbrook explained. “We want everyone protected from these types of medication errors, and so does the NPSF. The Foundation understands the significance of this research and the impact it has on patient safety.”

A Path to Clinical Practice

Ultimately, Hornbrook concludes, some of the most important relationships the CERTs have are with those who can effectively represent patients, whose voices can be easily missed.

“The NPSF has ties to major professional organizations and other national advocacy groups, so they have a translation bridge to reach a wider audience that understands how patient safety fits into medical care,” Hornbrook says. “These kinds of partnerships are the logical way of getting two groups together to further both agendas.”

The Centers for Education and Research on Therapeutics (CERTs) are a nationwide network of six research centers and a coordinating center that receive core financial support from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. The CERTs conduct research and provide education that will advance the optimal use of drugs, medical devices, and biological products; increase awareness of the benefits and risks of therapeutics; and improve quality while cutting the costs of health care.

Last Reviewed: January 2013  Posted January 2013