SAN DIEGO (FRONTLINE MEDICAL NEWS) – Hospital safety culture may positively influence certain surgical patient outcomes, results from a study of 56 Illinois hospitals demonstrated.

“Efforts to improve awareness of safety and quality improvement principles should be encouraged at both the surgical system and hospital levels,” David D. Odell, MD , said at the American College of Surgeons/National Surgical Quality Improvement Program National Conference. “Safety culture itself is a concept [that] is increasingly viewed as important in the delivery of high-quality care. Yet in the surgical world, very little is known about how hospital culture actually influences outcomes for our patients.”

Dr. Odell, a thoracic surgeon at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, Chicago, discussed results from a study by the Illinois Surgical Quality Improvement Collaborative, a group of Illinois hospitals working together to improve the quality of surgical care in the state. Participants in the Collaborative include 56 hospitals, including all academic medical centers in the state, as well as 11 rural hospitals. Combined, these facilities perform 60% of general surgery operations in the state and 80% of all complex operations, impacting more than 600,000 patients each year.

In an effort to evaluate the relationship between hospital safety culture and surgical patient outcomes, Dr. Odell and his associates invited staff of Collaborative members to complete the Safety Attitudes Questionnaire (SAQ ), a 56-item validated tool for assessment of hospital culture. Domains focused on were teamwork, communication, engagement, and leadership. The SAQ was given to administrators, staff, and front-line providers “to measure safety culture across all levels of the hospital,” Dr. Odell said. Percent positive responses were calculated at the hospital level for each of the eight domains to calculate a composite measure of safety. The researchers measured the impact of safety culture by assessing positive SAQ response rates. Outcome variables of interest were morbidity, mortality, death or serious morbidity, and readmission. Hospital-level risk-adjusted event rates and linear regression models were used to assess the impact of safety culture while controlling for teaching status, rural location, trauma center designation, hospital control (management), and the annual surgical volume.

Of the 49 participating hospitals represented in the survey responses, 49% had an Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education ( ACGME )-accredited residency program, 12% were rural, 61% provided trauma care, 35% had a religious affiliation, 57% were “other” not-for-profit, and the mean total surgical volume was 11,412 cases.

Dr. Odell reported that by domain, SAQ responses were most positive for operating room safety and lowest for hospital management. “That doesn’t necessarily reflect the management’s outcomes only, but the views of those who took the survey toward management,” he said.

When the researchers evaluated the impact of a more-positive safety culture on the risk-adjusted outcome measures, they observed a statistically significant impact on morbidity following surgery (P = .02). The trend was similar although not statistically significant for death/serious morbidity (P = .08), mortality (P =. 20), or readmission (P = .68).

Dr. Odell acknowledged certain limitations of the study, including its retrospective design and the fact that the SAQ is a subjective assessment tool. “Not all [staff invited] were surveyed,” he added. “We sent out just under 1,400 surveys and we had a response rate of 44%.”

Staff from participating institutions of the Collaborative meet on a semiannual basis to share ideas, celebrate successes and learn from each other’s experiences, Dr. Odell said. Ongoing efforts to improve safety culture include fostering opportunities for mentorship in quality improvement and process improvement endeavors, as well as the provision of educational materials targeted at all levels of hospital staff “so that we can get everyone thinking and speaking the same language when it comes to quality improvement,” he said.

The Collaborative is funded by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Illinois. Dr. Odell reported having no financial disclosures.