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Friday, September 11, 2009

The best way to spend September 11: Rapid response teams

Eight years later, today on Sept. 11, I still feel the impact of the terrorist attacks.

I had the pleasure of spending much of the day in planning how to greatly improve the health of people in Eastern Massachusetts. Babra Rabson of Massachusetts Health Quality Partners and Prof. Stuart Altman are leading a large-scale collaborative called Aligning Forces for Quality (AF4Q), and I'm participating on its Leadership Team.

In today's meeting we discussed broad goals we might pursue. My own vote was to encourage the use of rapid response teams in hospitals to prevent cardiac arrests in the hospital. Cardiac arrests in the hospital are very common; there are hundreds of thousands of them in the US each year, according to an article by Dr. Kerry Voorhis and Dr. Tina Willis in Pediatric Clinics of North America in 2009. Resuscitation attempts are made on roughly 30 hospital inpatients a day in Massachusetts, but they usually fail to save the patient's life. Warning signs like a change in the breathing rate, blood pressure, or confusion usually appear several hours before the cardiac arrest. Doctors and nurses can be trained on the hospital's process for intervening before a resuscitation (a code team) is needed. Family members can be informed that they can urge a rapid response team if they notice their family member's condition has deteriorated suddenly. This is a new law in Massachusetts; it's a requirement by the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations, and is a recommendation of the Institute for Healthcare Improvement.

The wide use of these rapid response teams should save many people's lives. The cost of doing so is slight. There may even be a financial reason to do this, as surviving inpatients will live on to keep paying insurance premiums.

The leaders of the AF4Q collaborative will choose an ambitious goal that will save lives of Massachusetts residents. They may well choose a different focus. In any event, I feel grateful to contribute to the discussion, and I feel this was the best way to spend September 11.

Advice for September 11: Spend the day in community service to make life better.

Read another story about rapid response teams.

Thanks to Helen Haskell of Mothers Against Medical Errors for emailing the source articles, and for inspiring South Carolina's Lewis Blackman Act.

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