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Combat medics and safety

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Stephen Mounts
  • 51st Fighter Wing Public Affairs
Wing Safety days are a key way for members of the 51st Fighter Wing to focus on and practice good safety procedures. The combat medics of the 51st Medical Group share in this preparation for "Safe Ops," but they also routinely participate in a type of safety training not required of most Mustangs -- patient safety. It's easy to appreciate the concept of patient safety, but getting it right is essential to keeping all the members of Team Osan healthy and Fit to Fight Tonight!

In addition to the typical ground safety and workplace safety topics that concern most Airmen, the combat medics have to ensure the safety of those entrusted to our care each and every time. They succeed at this task in many ways, but one of the most significant is through compliance with the National Patient Safety Goals chartered by the Joint Commission on the Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations.

JCAHO is the accrediting body for various types of healthcare organizations in the U.S. The majority of Department of Defense hospitals, including the 51st MDG, comply with the organization's standards to remain accredited. This accreditation usually involves an intensive survey every two to three years. Remaining accredited is a challenge because the JCAHO publishes a new version of the National Patient Safety Goals each year. Some of the 2007 goals include:

- Improve the accuracy of patient identification.

- Improve the effectiveness of communication among caregivers.

- Improve the safety of using medications.

- Reduce the risk of health care-associated infections.

- Encourage patients active involvement in their own care as a patient safety strategy.

These goals are designed to prevent medical errors that are common across hospitals in the U.S. and reduce the number of problems for patients.

Unfortunately, medical errors and infections resulting from treatment in the hospital remain the most common causes of patient injuries and death in the U.S. Across the U.S. health system, it has been estimated that as many as one in 10 hospital patients acquires an infection as the result of being hospitalized--that's as many as two million patients a year.

Estimates of the annual cost for these errors and infections ranges from $4.5-11 billion or more. Considering that the entire Air Force Medical Service budget is $6.9 billion, the cost of an unsafe environment is high. More importantly, it's dangerous!

Hospital generated infections contributed to 88,000 deaths in the U.S. in 1995. As with most safety incidents, one third of these infections are considered preventable.

The combat medics understand these risks and work hard to ensure each patient encounter at the hospital is a safe one. Simple things like proper hand washing can contribute to a safe patient environment. However, the entire combat medic team ensures everything from clean waiting room furniture to back-up generator support is available to maintain a safe patient care environment and a pleasant hospital experience. This culture of safety was recognized during the JCAHO survey in April 2006 as the 51st MDG received "full accreditation" with no significant findings related to patient safety.

However, due to the "tyranny of turnover," the team that led the 51st MDG through that survey is almost all gone! Therefore, the combat medics continually strive to institutionalize safe practices and maintain a culture of safety to ensure we never
let our guard down.

So the next time you are practicing your safety procedures at home or on the job you can rest assured that your combat medics are doing the same and more...just in case you need us!