England's Health Secretary Models Nationwide Reforms On Seattle Hospital

Mar 28, 2014

England’s health secretary has taken the unusual step of using a Seattle hospital to announce a major policy reform in his own country. The new patient safety policies are partly inspired by Seattle’s Virginia Mason Medical Center.

For Virginia Mason, the story goes back 10 years to a patient named Mary McClinton. She got an injection in preparation for a procedure, which turned out to be the wrong injection. The mistake took McClinton’s life, and led the hospital to take a hard look at its patient safety procedures.

A decade later, Virginia Mason has been called one of the safest hospitals in the world. The person piling on that praise is England’s Secretary of State for Health, Jeremey Hunt, who chose the hospital as the place to announce reforms to England’s National Health Service.

“This is a partnership, because I think Virginia Mason has embraced safety and probably led the way globally in doing so. But we want to be the first country to embrace it across an entire health care system,” Hunt said, seated next to Virginia Mason CEO Gary Kaplan.

Hunt singled out Virginia Mason’s Patient Safety Alerts as a best practice, a protocol inspired by the manufacturing practices at Toyota where any employee can stop the whole assembly line if something goes wrong.

Virginia Mason officials say malpractice claims have plunged since the hospital made changes.

The English reforms are broad, requiring hospitals to notify patients when they’ve harmed someone, and encouraging medical providers to opt in to other policies.