Background: Adverse drug events cause significant morbidity and mortality in health care. Many adverse drug events are due to medication errors and are preventable. In 1999 and 2000 the Patient Safety Center of Inquiry collaborated with the Institute for Healthcare Improvement (IHI) to implement a quality improvement (QI) project designed to reduce medication errors within the Veterans Administration system.
Methods: During a 6- to 9-month period, interdisciplinary teams that want to achieve much higher levels of performance work on a common aim, under the guidance of faculty, and come together for three 2-day educational and planning sessions. Between these sessions, teams implement some of the suggested changes, measure the results of those changes, and report back to the larger group.
Results: During the formal project, teams collected allergy information on more than 20,000 veterans and averted 1,833 medication errors that had the potential to cause adverse events. At 6-month follow-up, the majority of teams remained intact, continued to collect data, and maintained their gains, approximately doubling the results obtained during the formal project. Half of the teams expanded their efforts to other settings, and one-third of the teams expanded beyond their original topics. Returns on investment in the QI effort were substantial.
Conclusions: The results suggest that gains made in organized QI efforts can be maintained for 6 months without additional external support or coaching if team structure and leadership support remain intact. Facilitators of QI efforts should focus on teams that are having difficulty learning new techniques. Finally, this effort appeared to generate cost savings.