The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) released a new online toolkit on 23rd April, 2016, to assist hospital and health system leaders and professionals in communicating reliably, accurately and openly with patients and their families, in case of emergencies or when something goes wrong with their care.

The toolkit will expand on the AHRQ-developed communication and resolution process called Communication and Optimal Resolution, or CANDOR for short. CANDOR enables hospitals, health organizations, healthcare officials and health systems to respond quickly to an emergency situation where the patient is harmed, and to allow effective, truthful and compassionate communication between patients and their caregivers.

The toolkit is available free of charge and is the latest in a series of information and training materials to assist healthcare professionals in building safer healthcare techniques, methods and facilities.

According to a study by a team of researchers at Johns Hopkins Medicine, medical errors cause 1 out of 3 deaths in the US. Despite being provided the best care and effort by healthcare officials, hospitals and caregivers, such problems still exist i.e., 1 in 10 patients are harmed by the care they receive. Hence truthful and open communication is key.

Keeping an open communication channel can be quite challenging, since there are a lot of factors that can affect said channel. Effective communication can be especially difficult following harm due to which many patients seek to follow legal action.

The online toolkit includes notes, slides and tutorial videos, which allow healthcare officials to better equip themselves with safer healthcare facilities by implementing the CANDOR process. The toolkit’s aim is to encourage positive, engaging and truthful communication with patients and their families when harm occurs.

The process was developed by AHRQ and is based on expert opinion, research and lessons from the agency’s $23 million Patient Safety and Medical Liability grant initiative, launched in 2009. This is the largest federal investment in research, focused on improving patient safety procedures and healthcare techniques in order to reduce medical liabilities and errors.

AHRQ Director Andy Bindman, MD, said, “Medical harm can impact patients twice—first by the harm itself, and then by the “wall of silence” that can follow. This toolkit helps foster honest and transparent communication in an effort to rebuild trust and support safer care for patients.”

CANDOR is being used in some hospitals already and is an example of a program that encourages open communication and resolution processes. These processes help remove hurdles in the reporting of clinical errors and mistakes and encourage information exchanges that can help prevent future accidents and mishaps in clinical care.

The CANDOR process was tested and applied in real time scenarios in 14 hospitals across three health systems, all of whom plan to expand its use — Dignity Health in California, MedStar Health in the Baltimore/Washington DC metropolitan area, and Christiana Care in Delaware.

Richard J Pollack, President and CEO of the American Hospital Association (AHA), whose Health Research and Educational Trust Foundation developed the CANDOR tools under a contract with AHRQ, said, “Every day in American hospitals, countless doctors, nurses and other caregivers perform miracles for patients. And while one incident is one too many, sometimes errors occur. This toolkit helps everyone involved—patients, families, clinicians, and administrators—discuss what happened, agree on a resolution and make care safer in the long run.”

AHRQ is a research agency focusing on healthcare services that falls under the US Department of Health and Human Services. Its aim is to improve safety and quality of healthcare services and facilities using medical data and research and development. AHRQ also produces standards and data used to track and enhance care efficiency and performance and evaluates productivity of the overall US healthcare system. Its mission is to produce evidence to make health care safer, of higher quality, more accessible, equitable, and affordable, and to work within Health and Human Services (HHS) and with other agencies to make sure that said evidence is understood and used.

What Was The Need To Make Such A Toolkit?

By analyzing data collected over a period of eight years, the Johns Hopkins study estimates that 250,000 US citizens die annually due to clinical mishandling. On the CDC’s official list for leading cause of death, clinical mishandling would be ranked third, behind heart disease and cancer, which were each responsible for more than 600,000 deaths due to respiratory disease, which caused 150,000 deaths in the year 2014.

This is quite a shocking revelation in the world of medicine, since many of these deaths could have been avoided if the communication gap between doctors and patients was bridged. So the toolkit provides an optimal solution to bridge this gap and to provide better healthcare facilities, cut medical costs, improve quality of care and ultimately better safeguard patients’ health.

Following this move, many other healthcare agencies will soon follow suit and introduce training tools specific to certain areas of medicine such as orthodontics, orthopedics, gastroenterology and oncology.