Quality and Safety

Zeroing in on Zero Harm

Zeroing in on zero harm: Innovative quality and safety initiatives from Children’s National experts

Zeroing in on Zero Harm

Leaders at Children’s National Health System recently showcased innovative quality and safety initiatives on a national stage at the Children’s Hospital Association’s 2018 Quality and Safety in Children’s Health Conference.

Leaders at Children’s National Health System recently showcased innovative quality and safety initiatives on a national stage at the Children’s Hospital Association’s 2018 Quality and Safety in Children’s Health Conference. While collaborating with other medical professionals in the field, the team made an impact by sharing key projects implemented at Children’s National to enhance patient care and reduce harm, including:

    • Safety in Numbers: Driving 10,000 Good Catches – Presented by Rahul Shah, M.D., vice president, chief quality and safety officer, and Rebecca Cady, Esq, BSN, vice president, chief risk officer: Recognizing barriers to reporting safety events, Children’s National embarked upon a three-year corporate goal to double the number of safety event reports, ultimately leading to reduction of preventable harm. By promoting staff accountability and using incentives to drive reporting, incident reports more than doubled in a three-year time frame.
    • Moving from Disjointed Spreadsheets to a Real-Time Data Management System – Presented by Evan Hochberg, R.N., patient safety consultant, and Neil Bhattarai, C.S.T., process improvement consultant: Tracking hospital-acquired conditions (HACs) requires robust data capabilities, which is why Children’s National sought to improve its HAC data system with increased efficiencies and reduced delays in how staff presented data to the hospital. The team recognized opportunities to improve the management of HAC data, leading to the finding that increased real-time awareness of harm events while utilizing existing infrastructure can accelerate harm reduction.
    • Improving the Surgical Experience for Children with Autism – Presented by Terry Spearman, C.C.L.S., manager of child life services: Staff at Children’s National found that many patients with autism entering the operating room needed special support to make it through pre-op, complicating their path toward surgery and causing frustration for patients, families and the care team. The team solved this challenge by creating a system to identify patients before they arrived for surgery, which allowed staff to create a safe passage plan for each patient and to achieve better care coordination with all care team members. Titled “Help Me Keep Calm,” the hospital’s program provides a more peaceful and individualized experience for both the patient and his or her family.
    • IMPACT Session: Enhancing Psychological Safety to Improve the Safety Climate – Presented by Rahul Shah, M.D., vice president, chief quality and safety officer; Evan Hochberg, R.N., patient safety consultant; and Kathryn Jacobsen, R.N., director of patient safety: Psychological safety around event reporting is a crucial element of safety culture and the ability to voice concerns without reprisal leads to the ideal safe environment.
baby in arms

Breast-feeding, anesthesia and analgesics: What’s safe?

baby in arms

Breast-feeding is safe even just after moms have woken from anesthesia or while they take most pain medications, says Sarah Reece-Stremtan, M.D., lead author of an expanded protocol about the topic.

Moms can safely continue breast-feeding even just after waking from anesthesia and while taking most pain medications, according to a newly expanded clinical guidance, “Clinical Protocol No. 15: Analgesia and Anesthesia for the Breastfeeding Mother,” from the Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine (ABM).

In general, mothers who are beyond the postpartum stage do not need to avoid breast-feeding or to pump and discard breast milk while taking analgesics or receiving local or general anesthesia. The protocol was published in the journal Breastfeeding Medicine.

Sarah Reece-Stremtan, M.D., an anesthesiologist and acute pain medicine specialist at Children’s National Health System, co-chairs ABM’s protocol committee and is the lead author of the expanded protocol. A specialist in the intersection of anesthesia, pain medicine and breast-feeding medicine, Dr. Reece-Stremtan led the drafting of the recommendations.

“The key recommendation in this protocol is after waking up from anesthesia, most moms can breast-feed right away,” says Dr. Reece-Stremtan. “The standard thinking has been ‘pump and dump’ – discarding the breast milk for 24 hours after anesthesia. As an outdated practice, it is not evidence-based and is potentially harmful for babies. The evidence shows that this breast milk is safe.”

The authors’ main note of caution relates to opioids: “The most concerning class of medications used for anesthesia and analgesia in breast-feeding mothers is opioids, as these medications transfer into breast milk,” they write. “Judicious use of opioids for short periods is likely to be safe for most breast-feeding mothers and infants.”

The protocol recommendations cover pain medications, brief procedures, regional and general anesthesia and perioperative considerations. They provide more granular detail about specific anesthesia and analgesic agents.

For each recommendation, the protocol notes the strength or weakness of the evidence base. The authors note there is little rigorous information in the scientific literature about anesthesia or procedural sedation in breast-feeding mothers.

“For obvious reasons, it is unethical to conduct randomized, controlled clinical trials for this area, so we rely on expert opinion and on observational studies that do exist,” says Dr. Reece-Stremtan.

The protocol is intended to be relevant to a broad range of medical fields, from anesthesiology to general pediatrics, and to help any physician who may care for a new mother.

For instance, it includes a perioperative plan with suggestions that surgeons or physicians can share with their patients to make things easier for a breast-feeding mom who needs local or general anesthesia – and safer for their babies. “It’s important to acknowledge that medication isn’t the only or even the most important thing,” says Dr. Reece-Stremtan. Tips to aid breast-feeding can ease the minds of mothers and their physicians alike.

Dr. Reece-Stremtan has long been interested in breast-feeding and has seen a need for more education about where her areas of expertise, pediatric anesthesia and pain medicine, intersect. Few physicians specialize in this area, so she often gives talks to other clinicians on the topic.

“I know that most anesthesiologists do not encounter this scenario often, so many have questions about the impact of anesthesia agents on breast-feeding,” says Dr. Reece-Stremtan. “Likewise, general pediatricians, neonatal specialists and other health professionals who care for moms and newborns may have limited knowledge about the safety of pain medicine or anesthesia for breast-feeding infants.”

In developing this new set of recommendations, ABM’s protocol committee aimed to provide practical clinical guidance for two scenarios: Postpartum, and moms and babies who are past that stage. The committee divided a previous ABM protocol into these two areas and expanded them to offer clinicians more complete guidance that is clinically relevant yet concise. Dr. Reece-Stremtan attributes this expansion to a growing appreciation of the importance of breast-feeding to both individual and public health. She is helping to finalize ABM’s new birth-postpartum protocol on anesthesia and analgesics, which will be published in early 2018.

To build on these protocols, Dr. Reece-Stremtan is helping the Academy develop a set of free patient education materials that will inform mothers about the use of pain medications or the need for anesthesia while breast-feeding, so they can feel at ease that they are doing the best thing for their baby’s health.

Kavita Parikh

Discharge strategies to prevent asthma readmissions

“Improving how we care for children who are hospitalized with asthma includes preparing them for a successful return home with the best tools to manage their illness and prevent a future hospital visit,” says Kavita Parikh, M.D., M.S.H.S.

Readmission rates at three months for kids hospitalized for acute asthma dropped when families received comprehensive education prior to discharge, the only single component of discharge bundles that was strongly associated with lowered readmissions, finds a multicenter retrospective cohort study published online Feb. 1, 2018, in The Journal of Pediatrics.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, asthma is the most common chronic lung disease of childhood, affecting roughly 6 million U.S. children. Hospitalization for asthma accounts for $1.5 billion in annual hospital charges and represents almost one-third of childhood asthma costs.

Children who are hospitalized for asthma have a roughly 20 percent chance of returning to the hospital in the next year, and individual hospital readmission rates can range from 5.7 percent to 9.1 percent at three months, writes the study team. While the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has published evidence-based guidelines for discharge planning, there is no single, standardized asthma discharge process used across all pediatric hospitals in the U.S. that impacts 30-day readmission rates.

“Improving how we care for children who are hospitalized with asthma includes preparing them for a successful return home with the best tools to manage their illness and prevent a future hospital visit,” says Kavita Parikh, M.D., M.S.H.S., an associate professor of pediatrics at Children’s National Health System and lead study author. “Our study underscores the importance of increasing the intensity of select discharge components. For example, ensuring that children hospitalized for asthma receive asthma medication at discharge along with comprehensive education and environmental mitigation may reduce asthma readmissions.”

The study team analyzed records from a national sample of tertiary care children’s hospitals, looking at hospitalizations of 5- to 17-year-olds for acute asthma exacerbation during the 2015 calendar year. They characterized how frequently hospitals used 13 separate asthma discharge components by distributing an electronic survey to quality leaders. Forty-five of 49 hospitals (92 percent) completed the survey.

The 45 hospitals recorded a median of 349 asthma discharges per year and had a median adjusted readmission rate of 2.6 percent at 30 days and a 6.6 percent median adjusted readmission rate at three months. The most commonly used discharge components employed for children with asthma were having a dedicated person providing education (76 percent), providing a spacer at discharge (67 percent) and communicating with a primary medical doctor (58 percent).

Discharge components that were trending toward reduced readmission rates at three months include:

  • Comprehensive asthma education, including having dedicated asthma educators
  • Medications and devices provided to patients at discharge, such as spacers, beta-agonists, controller medication and oral steroids
  • Communication and scheduled appointments with a primary medical doctor
  • Post-discharge activities, including home visits and referrals for environmental mitigation programs.

“In addition to being aligned with NIH asthma recommendations, connecting the family with a primary care provider after discharge helps to improve patients’ timely access to care if symptoms recur when they return home,” Dr. Parikh adds. “Bundling these discharge components may offer multiple opportunities to educate patients and families and to employ a range of communication styles such as didactic, visual and interactive.”

Study co-authors include Matt Hall, Ph.D., Children’s Hospital Association; Chén C. Kenyon, M.D., M.S.H.P., The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia; Ronald J. Teufel II, M.D., M.S.C.R., Medical University of South Carolina; Grant M. Mussman, M.D., M.H.S.A. and Samir S. Shah, M.D., M.S.C.E., Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center; Amanda Montalbano, M.D., M.P.H., Children’s Mercy; Jessica Gold, M.D., M.S., Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital Stanford; James W. Antoon, M.D., Children’s Hospital; Anupama Subramony, M.D., Cohen Children’s Medical Center; Vineeta Mittal, M.D., M.B.A. and Rustin B. Morse, M.D., Children’s Health; and Karen M. Wilson, M.D., M.P.H., Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.

Research reported in this post was supported by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, K08HS024554.


NIH funding to improve devices and safeguard cardiovascular health

Nearly 15 million blood transfusions are performed each year in the U.S., and pediatric patients alone receive roughly 425,000 transfused units. Endocrine-disrupting chemicals, such as bisphenol A and di-2-ethylhexyl-phthalate (DEHP), can leach from some plastic devices used in such transfusions. However, it remains unclear how many complications following a transfusion can be attributed to the interplay between local and systemic reactions to these chemical contaminants.


Top: Live, excised heart that is being perfused with a crystalloid buffer via the aorta. The heart is stained with a voltage-sensitive fluorescent dye, which is excited by an LED light source. Bottom, right: Cardiac action potentials are optically mapped across the epicardial surface in real-time by monitoring changes in the fluorescence signal that are proportional to changes in transmembrane voltage. Bottom, left: An activation map (middle) depicts the speed of electrical conduction across the heart surface. Credit: Rafael Jaimes, Ph.D.; Luther Swift, Ph.D.; Manelle Ramadan, B.S.; Bryan Siegel, M.D.; James Hiebert, B.S., all of Children’s National Health System; and Daniel McInerney, student at The George Washington University.

The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute within the National Institutes of Health has awarded a $3.4 million, five-year grant to Nikki Gillum Posnack, Ph.D., assistant professor at the Sheikh Zayed Institute for Pediatric Surgical Innovation (SZI) at Children’s National Health System, to answer that question and to provide insights that could accelerate development of safer biomaterials.

According to the Food and Drug Administration, patients who are undergoing IV therapy, blood transfusion, cardiopulmonary bypass or extracorporeal membrane oxygenation or who receive nutrition through feeding support tubes have the potential to be exposed to DEHP.

Posnack led a recent study that found that an experimental model exposed to DEHP experienced altered autonomic regulation, heart rate variability and cardiovascular reactivity and reported the findings Nov. 6, 2017, in the American Journal of Physiology. The pre-clinical model study is the first to show such an association between phthalate chemicals used in everyday medical devices like IV tubing and cardiovascular health.

In the follow-on research, Posnack and colleagues will:

  • Use in vivo and whole heart models to define the extent to which biomaterial leaching and chemical exposure alters cardiovascular and autonomic function in experimental models
  • Determine whether biocompatibility and incidental chemical exposure are linked to cardiovascular and autonomic abnormalities experienced by pediatric patients post transfusion
  • Compare and contrast alternative biomaterials, chemicals and manufacturing techniques to identify safer transfusion device options.

“Ultimately, we hope to strengthen the evidence base used to inform decisions by the scientific, medical and regulatory communities about whether chemical additives that have endocrine-disrupting properties should be used to manufacture medical devices,” Posnack says. “Our findings also will highlight incentives that could accelerate development of alternative biomaterials, additives and fabrication techniques to improve safety for patients undergoing transfusion.”

Nikki Gillum Posnack

Experimental model study links phthalates and cardiovascular health

Nikki Gillum Posnack

“Because phthalate chemicals are known to migrate out of plastic products, our study highlights the importance of adopting safer materials, chemical additives and/or surface coatings for use in medical devices to reduce the risk of inadvertent exposure,” explains study senior author Nikki Gillum Posnack, Ph.D.

An experimental model exposed to di-2-ethylhexyl-phthalate (DEHP), a chemical that can leach from plastic-based medical devices, experienced altered autonomic regulation, heart rate variability and cardiovascular reactivity, according to a study published online Nov. 6, 2017 by the American Journal of Physiology. The pre-clinical model study is the first to show such an association between phthalate chemicals used in everyday medical devices like IV tubing and cardiovascular health.

“Plastics have revolutionized medical devices, transformed how we treat blood-based diseases and helped to make innovative cardiology procedures possible,” says Nikki Gillum Posnack, Ph.D., study senior author and assistant professor at the Sheikh Zayed Institute for Pediatric Surgical Innovation (SZI) at Children’s National Health System. “Because phthalate chemicals are known to migrate out of plastic products, our study highlights the importance of adopting safer materials, chemical additives and/or surface coatings for use in medical devices to reduce the risk of inadvertent exposure.”

According to the Food and Drug Administration, patients who are undergoing IV therapy, blood transfusion, cardiopulmonary bypass or extracorporeal membrane oxygenation or who receive nutrition through feeding support tubes have the potential to be exposed to DEHP.

Patients undergoing extensive interventions to save their lives may be exposed to multiple plastic-based devices that supply oxygen and nutrition or that pump newly oxygenated blood to oxygen-starved organs.

“These interventions keep very fragile kids alive. What’s most important is getting patients the care they need when they need it,” Posnack says. “In the biomaterials field, our ultimate goal is to reduce inadvertent risks to patients that can result from contact with plastic products by identifying replacement materials or safer coatings to lower overall risk.”

In order to assess the safety of phthalate chemicals used in such medical devices, the Children’s-led research team implanted adult experimental models with radiofrequency transmitters that monitored their heart rate variability, blood pressure and autonomic regulation. Then, they exposed the experimental models to DEHP, a softener used in making the plastic polymer, polyvinyl chloride, flexible.

DEHP-treated pre-clinical models had decreased heart rate variability with lower-than-normal variation in the intervals between heart beats. The experimental models also showed an exaggerated mean arterial pressure response to ganglionic blockade. And in response to a stressor, the experimental models in the treatment group displayed enhanced cardiovascular reactivity as well as prolonged blood pressure recovery, according to the study team.

“The autonomic nervous system is a part of the nervous system that automatically regulates such essential functions as blood pressure and breathing rate without any conscious effort by the individual,” Posnack adds. “Because alterations in the autonomic balance provide an early warning sign of trouble – before symptoms of hypertension or atherosclerosis manifest – our findings underscore the importance of additional studies to explore the potential impact of phthalate chemicals on organ function.”

Billie Lou Short, M.D., chief of Children’s Division of Neonatology, called the paper an “important study” that builds on a foundation laid in the late 199os by Children’s researchers who were the first to show that plasticizers migrated from tubing in the extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) circuit. Children’s researchers also led a study published in 2004 that evaluated the effect of plasticizers on the human reproductive system. A small number of adolescents who had undergone ECMO as newborns did not experience the complications that had been seen in in experimental models, Dr. Short says.

Posnack’s study co-authors include Rafael Jaimes III, Ph.D., SZI staff scientist; Meredith Sherman, SZI research technician; and Adam Swiercz, Narine Muselimyan and Paul J. Marvar, all of The George Washington University.


Detecting and treating dnDSA early preserves allograft function


Monitoring and treating de novo donor-specific antibodies (dnDSA) before they could cause graft damage helped to decrease dnDSA in a majority of pediatric kidney transplant recipients at Children National Health System and prevented graft failure in the first few years.

Development of de novo donor-specific antibodies (dnDSA) is known to cause graft failure. Therefore, a protocol aimed at prospective monitoring and treating dnDSA – before they can cause graft damage – was developed for kidney transplant recipients at Children National Health System. This helped to decrease dnDSA in 76 percent of pediatric patients and prevented graft failure in the first few years, indicates a longitudinal cohort study published online Jan. 22, 2018, in Pediatric Transplantation. However, the benefit of preserving function of transplanted kidneys came at a price: Heightened hospitalization rates for infection.

An estimated 20 percent to 30 percent of children develop dnDSA and many of these patients go on to develop allograft failure after three to six years, write the study authors.

Clinical signs of graft failure due to antibodies appear too late to safeguard long-term graft survival. According to the study authors, developing earlier methods to detect dnDSA offers the opportunity to intervene before irreversible graft injury occurs.

“Children’s National Health System instituted a routine protocol that standardizes monitoring and treatment of dnDSA,” says Asha Moudgil, M.D., FASN, associate chief of the Division of Nephrology at Children’s National and the study’s senior author. “We followed this protocol as we monitored and treated all children younger than 19 who received a kidney transplant at Children’s National from Jan. 1, 2008, to Dec. 31, 2013.”

After transplant, these children were monitored for development of dnDSA at six months and then yearly. Upon detection of DSA, these children underwent kidney biopsy to assess for acute rejection. Additionally, monitoring was intensified to every two months.

“Our patients did not have a statistically significant increase in graft loss or dysfunction, suggesting that early and targeted treatment of dnDSA may benefit patients,” says Asha Moudgil, M.D., FASN.

Sixty-seven of the 72 children who received kidney transplants during that six-year period were included in this retrospective analysis. Their mean age was 14.1 years. Acute cellular rejection was treated according to a prespecified protocol.

  • The team treated de novo DSA with high-dose intravenous immunoglobulin (IVIG) if antibody titers were low and added two doses of rituximab to that treatment regimen if antibody titers were high.
  • If either C1q binding of immunodominant DSA was present or C4d+ were seen on biopsy, six sessions of plasma exchange were added to the above protocol.
  • Kids who were resistant to such treatment approaches received an additional four doses of IVIG monthly.

Nearly 39 percent of the children developed dnDSA within a median of 1.36 years. Ten of these 26 children had increased creatinine, 12 had new onset proteinuria and six had newly diagnosed hypertension at the time the dnDSA was detected. The multivariate analysis found that the coefficient of variance of tacrolimus, which measures adherence to immunosuppressive drugs, was the only statistically significant predictor for developing dnDSA.

DSA-positive patients had a higher rate of admissions (1.23 hospital admissions for infectious- or immunosuppressive-related side effects per patient, compared with 0.59 hospital admissions for the DSA-negative patients), which the study team attributes to aggressive treatment of dnDSA.

“Our patients did not have a statistically significant increase in graft loss or dysfunction, suggesting that early and targeted treatment of dnDSA may benefit patients,” Dr. Moudgil adds. “There was a higher risk of treatment-related complications, however, and this risk must be balanced against the short-term benefit of prolonging allograft function.”

Study co-authors include Olga Charnaya, M.D., a Children’s fellow when the study was designed and the article was drafted, now at Johns Hopkins; and Children’s Nephrologist, Shamir Tuchman, M.D.

Scoliosis X-ray image

Improved procedures, reduced harm: Moving the needle on spinal fusion

Scoliosis X-ray image

In many cases of pediatric scoliosis, a surgical posterior spinal fusion – a life-changing yet complicated process – is needed to straighten the spine.

As part of its ongoing transition to value-based care, Children’s National is constantly reevaluating systems and processes across specialties and proactively seeking ways to deliver the highest quality care. This includes treatments for everything from the rarest of diseases to more frequent conditions, such as pediatric scoliosis.

In many cases of pediatric scoliosis, a surgical posterior spinal fusion – a life-changing yet complicated process – is needed to straighten the spine. The procedure involves permanently fusing bones over the curved part of the spine and requires expert coordination among physicians, nurses and therapists. To improve the procedure and make it as safe and efficient as possible, experts at Children’s National developed a first-of-its-kind pediatric spinal fusion surgical home, an innovative, family-centered approach that is making a real impact.

Prior to this initiative, patients who underwent posterior spinal fusion to treat scoliosis spent multiple days across multiple units in the hospital. Thanks to a comprehensive care pathway with input from all care providers treating these patients, overall recovery time has been reduced as well as days in the hospital. This in turn decreased the costs to both the families and Children’s National.

In the first six months of implementation, changes included decreasing the average length of stay from approximately five days to three and a half days, decreased blood transfusion rate and less use of opioid pain medications. Each of these pieces directly contributes to the safety of a child and decreased costs across the board. Ultimately, implementing cutting-edge practices like these brings the organization closer to zero harm and helps move the needle on patient care across the industry.

Electronic medical record on tablet

Combating ENT wrong patient errors

Electronic medical record on tablet

A recent article published in ENTtoday highlights specific ways ENT physicians can improve quality and care for patients to work towards eliminating wrong patient errors and achieving a zero-harm environment.

In the article, Rahul Shah, M.D., Vice President and Chief Quality & Safety Officer at Children’s National Health System, points out that ENTs are especially vulnerable to wrong patient errors (WPEs) due to the wide variety of settings in which they see patients. He asserts that with this knowledge in mind, ENTS can find ways to “block and tackle” to prevent WPEs from occurring. Key to success is the development of a supportive culture of reporting where all staff are encouraged and empowered to speak up.

“With any size of practice, you need to talk about safety and quality. If doesn’t have to be formal, and don’t overthink it. Something as easy as a safety huddle a couple of times a week goes a long way toward shaping the culture.”

Read the full article here.

Rahul Shah

A big transformation starting with small changes from within

Rahul Shah

“It was novel and exciting to see managers, chiefs, and even front-line staff identify potential ‘projects’ that could potentially fall under this work,” said . Rahul Shah, M.D., Vice President and Chief Quality & Safety Officer. “The change, as the executive leadership hoped, was organic and recognized a true cultural shift.”

Like many health care systems, Children’s National realizes that in order to provide top care to patients, the hospital and health system have to constantly evolve. In 2013, across the country, the importance of a strong safety and quality program were growing and the organization’s executive leadership made it a key priority to deliver the best care and follow best practices to ensure that we were driving value in healthcare. Children’s National embarked on a long-term journey, known as Transformation 2018, that would ultimately prove successful in improving quality of care while reducing costs across the hospital system.

When starting this initiative, the leaders at Children’s realized that in order to successfully transition from volume-based to value-based care, the change had to occur organically – in other words, led by our own internal teams. Continuously striving to be on the forefront of quality and safety innovation, Children’s National has always valued a culture that empowers staff at all levels to be part of transformations, and this initiative was no different. Rahul Shah, M.D., Vice President and Chief Quality & Safety Officer, and Linda Talley, R.N., Vice President and Chief Nursing Officer, would lead the effort.

Rather than setting their sights on first targeting populations of patients, as is common practice, the team aimed to make an impact at a more micro level by focusing on particular diseases or diagnoses. This strategy allowed the initiative to start on a small scale and involve staff in numerous divisions across the health system, which would eventually pave the way for bolder and broader population health initiatives.

By integrating changes through individual initiatives, Children’s National achieved a combination of quality and cost savings in a number of disease areas, including autism, testicular torsion, idiopathic posterior spinal fusion and sickle cell disease vaso-occlusive crisis.

As the benefits of this effort were realized, leaders throughout the hospital approached the transformation team to see how they too could be a part of the project to transition their divisions.

“It was novel and exciting to see managers, chiefs, and even front-line staff identify potential ‘projects’ that could potentially fall under this work,” said Dr. Shah. “The change, as the executive leadership hoped, was organic and recognized a true cultural shift.”

Stanley Thomas Fricke

Using IR imaging to improve lead apron inspection

Stanley Thomas Fricke

“When I researched how lead aprons are inspected, I learned that a combination of tactile and visual inspection is considered the gold standard. But many of the smallest holes can be missed this way,” says Stanley Thomas Fricke, Nucl. Eng., Ph.D., radiation safety officer at Children’s National Health System and study senior author.

Workers inspecting the lead aprons that shield patients from radiation during imaging tend to use tactile and visual inspections to find defects, running their fingers over the aprons since fingertips can detect even subtle changes to a surface. Yet findings from a new study could influence changes in this approach to improve inspection performance and better protect patients and inspectors.

Infrared (IR) thermal imaging is a much better detective, with 50 percent of study participants picking out all holes intentionally drilled into a test apron compared with just 6 percent of participants who detected the same defects using the tactile method, according to research published online Nov. 8, 2017 in Journal of the American College of Radiology. In addition to being a more accurate way to detect subtle defects, the IR imaging technology also reduces ionizing radiation exposure for inspectors checking the protective power of lead aprons.

“When I researched how lead aprons are inspected, I learned that a combination of tactile and visual inspection is considered the gold standard. But many of the smallest holes can be missed this way,” says Stanley Thomas Fricke, Nucl. Eng., Ph.D., radiation safety officer at Children’s National Health System and study senior author. “Unlike the fingertips, infrared light can penetrate the lead apron’s protective outer fabric and illuminate defects that are smaller than the defect size now used to reject a protective apron. This work challenges conventional wisdom and offers an inexpensive, readily available alternative.”

According to the study team, a growing number of health care settings use radiation-emitting imaging, from the operating room to the dentist’s office. Lead aprons and gonadal shields lower radiation doses experienced by health care staff and patients. In compliance with regulators, these protective devices are inspected regularly. A layer of lead inside keeps patients’ exposure to ionizing radiation at the lowest detectable level. The aprons are covered with nylon or polyester fabric for the patients’ comfort and for ease of cleaning.

“It is standard for health care institutions to use a tactile-visual approach to inspect radiation protective apparel,” Fricke says. “While increasingly common, that inspection method can allow aprons with holes and tears to slip by undetected due to the large surface area that needs to be inspected, the outer fabric that encloses the protective apron and other factors.”

Fricke recalled a news clip from years ago about an IR camera used to film swimmers at the pool that, like Superman’s powerful vision, could see through pool-goers’ clothing. The manufacturer quickly recalled the camera. But the IR technology is a perfect fit for inspectors looking for defects hidden under a lead apron’s fabric cover.

To validate this inspection alternative, the team drilled a series of nine holes ranging from 2 mm to 35 mm in diameter into a “phantom” lead apron and enclosed it within fabric that typically covers the protective shielding. The research team stapled the phantom apron to a wooden frame and placed dry wall under the frame.

Two of 31 radiation workers picked out all nine holes by touch and recorded the holes and their locations on written questionnaires.

For the IR method, the team used an infrared light to illuminate the lead apron from behind and relied on an infrared imaging camera to record 10 seconds of video from which still images were exported. Ten of 20 radiation technologists, radiology nurses and medical doctors identified all nine holes using those color photographs and recorded their entries on a questionnaire. An additional 20 percent identified eight of nine intentional defects to the phantom apron.

In both the tactile and IR groups, all participants found the largest hole and correctly recorded its location.

“Using the tactile method for inspection, most staff who work regularly with radiation-emitting devices were able to identify defects that would cause a lead apron to be rejected, which is 11 mm holes for thyroid shields and 15 mm holes for aprons,” Fricke says. “However, it is standard for these well-used aprons to develop smaller holes—which, over time, become bigger holes. Here at Children’s National, we care about every photon that touches a child.”

In the next phase of the research, the team will explore infrared flash photography, cooling the apron material and the impact of high-resolution cameras with greater depth of field.

Rahul Shah

Speaking up for safety: Virginia Hospital and HealthCare Association spotlights culture of reporting at Children’s National Health System

Rahul Shah

Rahul Shah, M.D., Vice President and Chief Quality and Safety Officer at Children’s National recently sat down with VHHA’s REVIEW magazine to share best practices and success strategies.

For Children’s National Health System, fostering a culture of safety meant empowering everyone to play a role, from front line staff to providers to the C-suite. Recently, pediatric quality and safety experts at Children’s National sat down with Virginia Hospital & Health Association (VHHA)’s REVIEW magazine to share best practices, success strategies and leadership from Children’s National in this arena. Rahul Shah, M.D., MBA, Children’s National vice president and chief quality and safety officer, and Lisbeth Fahey, MSN, RN, executive director for quality, safety, accreditation, regulatory and emergency preparedness, discussed how establishing a non-punitive culture of reporting where anyone can raise a concern led to improved safety outcomes.

“Our approach has been to make it fun, make it exciting and to reward people,” said Shah, noting the inverse correlation between reporting frequency and safety results.

Read the full story here (pages 10-12) to learn more about how Children’s National is leading the way in quality and safety and the importance of giving all employees permission to speak up.


Promoting a culture of safety with 10,000 good catches


In today’s fast-paced health care environment, it has become increasingly important to create a culture of safety where improvement opportunities are recognized and welcomed. With medical errors cited as the one of the leading causes of morbidity and mortality in the United States, health care organizations are working to rapidly identify and respond to errors before long-term issues develop.

Improving event reporting is a critical step. To create an effective culture of safety, employees from throughout a hospital or health system must be empowered. They must be educated and have the ability to easily raise awareness of potential problems and risks and they must be able to proactively resolve problems. With this mindset, Children’s National Health System set out to double the number of voluntary safety event reports submitted over a three-year period; the intent was to increase reliability and promote safety culture by hardwiring employee event reporting. With the goal of growing from 4,668 reports in fiscal year 2014 to 9,336 in 2017, the initiative became known as 10,000 Good Catches. And, the positive framing of the endeavor added to a sense of ownership and reporting among staff members.

Following a Donabedian quality improvement framework of structure, process and outcomes, Children’s National formed a multidisciplinary team and identified three key areas for improvement:

  1. Technology: Make reporting user-friendly, fast and easy
  2. Safe to Report: Create a non-punitive environment in which staff feel secure reporting safety events
  3. Makes a Difference: Develop a culture and system to provide feedback and advance meaningful improvements stemming from safety event reporting

Over the next three years, the team, via subcommittees, routinely solicited feedback from front-line users and met as a larger group monthly to propose interventions, review quantitative data and prioritize next steps. In tandem, employees were educated through internal communications on how, what and when to report. The primary outcome measure was the number of safety event reports submitted through the electronic reporting platform. Event report submission time, number of departments submitting events and percent of safety event reports submitted anonymously were also tracked.

These efforts paid off, as Children’s National more than doubled the number of voluntary safety event reports filed over the three-year period from 4,668 in fiscal year 2014 to 10,971 in 2017, with steady annual improvements. Other metrics included decreased event reporting time and anonymous reports. Interestingly, there was a marked increase in the number of departments submitting reports.

This successful initiative not only resulted in increased safety reporting and engagement, but was an important step toward improving organizational reliability and building a culture of safety first. Future steps will focus on how to sustain improvement, how to more efficiently leverage reporting data and how to apply the data to prevent future safety events.

Baby in the NICU

Reducing harm, improving quality in the NICU

Baby in the NICU

American health care is some of the most expensive in the world. To help make it more affordable, numerous efforts in all areas of medicine – from cancer care to primary care to specialized pediatrics – are focused on finding ways to improve quality and patient safety while also cutting costs.

About half a million babies born in the United States – or 10 percent to 15 percent of U.S. births – end up in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU), most due to prematurity and very low birth weights. These vulnerable babies often need respiratory support in the form of a ventilator, which supplies oxygen to their lungs with a plastic endotracheal tube (ETT).

The typical care for these infants often involves frequent X-rays to verify the proper position of the tube. However, the American Academy of Pediatrics has counseled health care providers that ordering a daily chest X-ray simply to verify positioning of the ETT ratchets up costs without improving patient safety.

A quality-improvement initiative by Children’s National Health System’s NICU finds that these chest X-rays can be performed just twice weekly, lessening the chances of a breathing tube popping out accidentally, reducing infants’ exposure to radiation and saving an estimated $1.6 million per year.

“The new Children’s National protocol reduced the rate of chest X-rays per patient day without increasing the rate of unintended extubations,” says Michelande Ridoré, M.S., program lead in Children’s division of neonatology, who presented the research during the 2017 American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) national conference. “That not only helps to improve patient safety – for newborns who are admitted to the NICU for longer periods, there is the additional benefit of providing significant savings to the health care system.”

Children’s NICU staff assessed how many chest X-rays were being performed per patient day before and after the protocol change, which applied to all intubated newborns in the NICU whose health condition was stable. Newborns had been undergoing a median of 0.45 chest X-rays per patient day. After the quality improvement project, that figure dropped to 0.23 chest X-rays per patient day.

When the project started in July 2015, the NICU’s monthly X-ray expenditure was $289,520. By the end of 2015, that monthly X-ray spend had fallen to $159,424 – resulting in nearly $1.6 million in annual savings.

The more restrictive strategy for ordering chest X-rays was a core component of a broader quality improvement effort aimed at lowering the number of unplanned extubations, which represent the fourth most common complication experienced by newborns in the nation’s NICUs.

“When you reduce the frequency of patients in the unit being moved, you decrease the chances of the breathing tube coming out accidentally,” Ridoré says. “By reducing unplanned extubations in the NICU, we can improve overall clinical outcomes, reduce length of stay, lower costs and improve patient satisfaction.”

When a breathing tube is accidentally dislodged, newborns can experience hypoxia (oxygen deficiency), abnormally high carbon dioxide levels in the blood, trauma to their airway, intraventricular hemorrhage (bleeding into the fluid-filled areas of the brain) and code events, among other adverse outcomes. What’s more, a patient with an unintended extubation can experience a nearly doubled hospital stay compared with the length of stay for newborns whose breathing tubes remain in their proper places. Each unplanned extubation can increase the cost of care by $36,000 per patient per admission.

To tackle this problem, Children’s National created the Stop Unintended Extubations “SUN” team. The team created a package of interventions for high-risk patients. Within one month, unintended extubations dropped from 1.18 events per 100 ventilator days to 0.59 events during the same time frame. And, within five months, that plummeted even further to 0.41 events per 100 ventilator days.

Their ultimate goal is to whittle that rate down even further to 0.3 events per 100 ventilator days, which has occurred sporadically. And the NICU notched up to 75 days between unintended extubations.

“Unintended extubation rates at Children’s National are lower than the median reported on various quality indices, but we know we can do more to enhance patient safety,” Ridoré says. ”Our SUN team will continue to address key drivers of this quality measure with the aim of consistently maintaining this rate at no more than 0.3 events per 100 ventilator days.”

Happy girl in hospital bed surrounded by doctors

Addressing MB-CLABSI through innovation – and dedication – to pediatric safety

Happy girl in hospital bed surrounded by doctors

With mucosal barrier central line-associated blood stream infections (MB-CLABSI) posing a serious risk to cancer and other immunocompromised patients, Children’s National Health System was intent on finding a way to prevent them. Through a focused initiative led by Rose Szeles, M.S., R.N., N.E.-B.C., director of nursing for the Center for Cancer and Blood Disorders, the hospital experienced great success, cutting infection rates by more than half.

This was a daunting proposition. Historically MB-CLABSI has not been viewed as a preventable infection due to the side effects typically associated with bone marrow transplants in this patient population. Sores and mucosal disruption that develops in the oral cavity post-transplant are fairly common and make it exceedingly difficult to keep the mouth clean and clear of bacteria. Without regimented oral hygiene in this type of environment, the mouth can quickly develop bacteria putting the patient at risk of a MB-CLABSI.

“We challenged the notion that we could not prevent MB-CLABSI and set out on a journey to try to prevent these types of infections from occurring,” says vice president and chief quality and safety officer, Rahul Shah, M.D. “With leadership from our nursing teams and the infection control and prevention group working together with the physicians, we were able to approach this issue from a unique perspective.”

In 2013, Children’s National launched a MB-CLABSI prevention program focused around saline rinses to improve oral hygiene. The goal was to keep the mouth cleaner to avoid bacteria from forming and ultimately entering the blood stream.

Children’s National put the plan into action through the following measures:


  • Simplified ordering of saline rinses to increase accountability and compliance with the practice and make it easier for providers
  • Implemented reminders to order saline rinses during daily rounds
  • Added saline rinses to the Medication Administration Record to drive compliance in administration of the task


  • Saline rinses were chosen as an indicator to be displayed on public-facing quality boards throughout the hospital
  • Implemented daily audits of the quality board to track opportunities for improving compliance and reducing omissions and errors
  • Standardized daily medical rounds to include review of the quality boards


  • Implemented discussion of saline rinses of the mouth for oncology and bone marrow transplant patients during daily rounds
  • Standardized education for caregivers of children with central lines

“Through strategic programs like this, our patients are safer and Children’s National continues to be a national pediatric quality leader,” says Dr. Shah.

Children's National Red Badge Project

The Red Badge Project: expediting ED care

Children's National Red Badge Project

A red badge allows newly diagnosed cancer patients and BMT patients to bypass security and triage so they can receive lifesaving antibiotics within an hour of fighting fever.

Chemotherapy and bone marrow transplant procedures leave cancer patients with compromised immune systems, leading many to develop life-threatening infections or other complications. In particular, neutropenia, or abnormally low levels of white blood cells that are critical to fighting off infections, is prevalent among this population. Fever with neutropenia can be fatal.

As part of the Children’s National Health System commitment to deliver better outcomes and safer care through innovative approaches, the Hematology/Oncology/Bone Marrow Transplant (BMT) Family Advisory team developed a protocol to rapidly identify BMT and cancer patients with suspected neutropenia to receive antibiotics within 60 minutes of arriving at the Emergency Department (ED). The Red Badge Project was born with the following goals:

• Decrease the median triage-to-antibiotic time in cancer patients with fever and suspected neutropenia or bone marrow transplant patients to 30 minutes
• Increase the proportion of patients receiving antibiotics within one hour to 90 percent

As part of the protocol, newly diagnosed cancer and bone marrow transplant patients receive a Red Badge and education regarding how to use it. If they run a fever and need medical attention, the patient and family present the Red Badge upon arrival at the ED in order to bypass the welcome desk and ED triage. This action accelerates the process, keeps the child from waiting in an area where there are other sick children and ensures the patient receives lifesaving antibiotics as fast as possible.

Work done before the patient walks through the ED doors contributes to the success of this program. When a patient runs a fever, the family is instructed to call the Hematology Oncology Fellow on-call. If it is determined that the patient needs to come to the ED, the Fellow then: 1) receives the patient’s estimated arrival time so that staff can clean and prep a room 2) reminds them to apply their topical analgesia to numb the port site where the antibiotic will be administered 3) reminds them to bring their Red Badge.

From there, swift action is taken. By the time the patient arrives, he or she has already been registered and the appropriate medications have been ordered. The patient bypasses security and triage using their Red Badge as a visual cue and is then directed to a prepped room complete with medications ready for administration.

To date, the median time from triage to administration of antibiotics has decreased nearly 50 percent while the proportion of patients who received antibiotics within 60 minutes of triage improved to 90 percent.

Leveraging that success, the next step is to develop education for non-English speaking families in order to extend the reach of this lifesaving practice.

Children’s National receives top safety and quality award

John M. Eisenberg Patient Safety and Quality Awar

As part of a collaborative of researchers, hospitalists and medical education specialists, Children’s National Health System was recently recognized with the highest patient safety and quality award in the country: The prestigious John M. Eisenberg Patient Safety and Quality Award. Administered by The Joint Commission and the National Quality Forum (NQF), two leading organizations that set standards in patient care, this award recognizes Children’s commitment to ensure safe and high-quality care for all patients.

The team at Children’s National helped develop a package of interventions used by more than 50 leading hospitals in the U.S. as part of a collaborative initiative called the I-PASS Study Group. The group helps standardize communications during handoffs of patients from one care team to another. This award-winning program was also shown to reduce harmful medical errors in a multi-center study published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Patient handoffs happen multiple times per day in every hospital in the country, making it vitally important that the process is seamless and free of miscommunications.

Children’s National safety experts share strategies

Rahul Shah

Rahul Shah, M.D., Vice President and Chief Quality and Safety Officer at Children’s National Health System (CNHS), and his team joined pediatric quality and safety leaders from across the country in Orlando, Fla. for the Children’s Hospital Association’s 2017 Quality & Safety in Children’s Health Conference.

Earlier this month, Rahul Shah, M.D., Vice President and Chief Quality and Safety Officer at Children’s National Health System (CNHS), and his team joined pediatric quality and safety leaders from across the country in Orlando, Fla. for the Children’s Hospital Association’s 2017 Quality & Safety in Children’s Health Conference. Dr. Shah shared findings and strategies that have led Children’s National to be a leader in this field, and collaborated with peers to move the needle on pediatric safety in hospitals and improving the quality of care hospitals deliver.

Notable presentations from the Children’s National team included:

  • The Children’s National utilization of a safety culture survey called the Safety Attitude Questionnaire (SAQ), and the crucial role of ensuring leadership alignment in the survey process. Obtaining leadership buy-in and alignment allowed Children’s to accelerate the spread of identified opportunities for improvement within the organization.
  • The importance of an ongoing multi-disciplinary approach to care for psychiatry patients, a patient population that that continues to increase in American pediatric healthcare and requires innovative approaches. Children’s National team members emphasized the importance of training the hospital’s security teams and front-line caregivers in therapeutic interventions to seek optimal outcomes for patients, while respecting the complexity of their diagnoses.
  • How to drive reliability through apparent cause analyses. Kristen Crandall, Director of Patient Safety at Children’s National, shared examples of how to leverage data to effectively drive change in cause analyses. Cause analyses are fundamental tools for implementing improvement. The team highlighted the upcoming launch of a High Reliability Toolkit© developed at CNHS to ensure that action plans created from cause analyses are of adequate depth and sophistication to drive improvements.

Dr. Shah and his team also had the honor of delivering an Impact session on the final day of the conference, in which they discussed the applications of merging patient safety with patient experience. The team also shared the Children’s National approach to safety and service, which includes delivering a unified framework of high reliability through consistent messaging to demonstrate that when safety and service integrate and align, the sum is greater than the parts.