Taking your safety temperature

Learn how to put structure to your patient safety program while changing the culture and measuring progress


More than 86,000 patients who live along Southwest Florida’s waterways or within 1,200 square miles of Lee County benefit from Lee County EMS’ (LCEMS) first-rate medical services each year. This respected EMS service runs both ALS and BLS ambulances as well as an air medical program. But something is different at LCEMS – an exceptional focus on improving patient safety to support the best possible care in the safest manner for all patients.

Patient safety boot camp

While patient safety has always been a core value for LCEMS, the focus was heightened in March 2017 when Lee County hosted the Center for Patient Safety’s first EMS Patient Safety Boot Camp. This day-long interactive session helps leaders set the patient safety tone with improved communication and a non-punitive culture. LCEMS’ patient safety program focuses heavily on a just culture framework, encouraging employees to self-report errors and near misses. These reports form the basis for increased learning and improvement.

As part of its Road to Reliability Webinar series, the Center for Patient Safety is offering a webinar on Nov. 16, 2020, at 1:00 pm CST. Capt. Colin Johnson of LCEMS will share his agency’s “boots on the ground” patient safety journey – why they chose to use the patient assessment surveys, some of the results, actions they took to make improvements, and their future plans.
As part of its Road to Reliability Webinar series, the Center for Patient Safety is offering a webinar on Nov. 16, 2020, at 1:00 pm CST. Capt. Colin Johnson of LCEMS will share his agency’s “boots on the ground” patient safety journey – why they chose to use the patient assessment surveys, some of the results, actions they took to make improvements, and their future plans. (Photo/courtesy St. Charles County Ambulance District)

To put structure to its patient safety program, LCEMS formed a Patient Safety Engagement Team to lead and coordinate its improvement work. The team searched for a success metric to measure patient safety improvement and determined that a Patient Safety Culture Assessment, completed by front-line providers, was the answer. The survey allowed LCEMS to recognize and celebrate its strengths: teamwork, communication during a response and staff training. It also highlighted staff fatigue (a known challenge across the industry) and information exchange with long-term care facilities as opportunities for improvement.

Eighteen months after the first survey, a second one showed substantial improvement: 11 of 12 dimensions and 34 of 42 questions scored higher than the previous survey. Lee County EMS has plenty of reasons to be proud, and the staff recognizes it. Front-line providers celebrate their leaders’ efforts to build an aligned organization by empowering staff to speak up and be involved.

The safety culture assessment is more than a questionnaire; it provides an avenue for frontline providers to anonymously share their opinions about patient safety concerns. It offers a measurable snapshot in time of an agency’s culture. Changing culture is a significant undertaking. Feedback from the assessment is an essential tool in defining the current state and reliably measuring changes over time.

Jennifer Fletcher, national vice president of clinical practices for Global Medical Response, shared her thoughts about the assessment; “It can be daunting, not to mention uncomfortable, to ask for feedback that directly reflects on the job you are doing as a leader, but you have to do it. You can’t impact what you don’t know, and you won’t know unless you ask!”

Capt. Colin Johnson, patient safety team leader, encourages EMS agencies to “embrace and adopt the ‘crawl, walk, run’ mentality. Changing the culture and improving patient safety does not happen overnight. Measuring our progress helps us identify our opportunities as well as successes to celebrate. We truly are trying to improve our culture for the betterment of the people we serve, to keep everybody safe.”

CPS Road to Reliability webinar series

As part of its Road to Reliability Webinar series, the Center for Patient Safety is offering a webinar on Nov. 16, 2020, at 1:00 pm CST. Capt. Colin Johnson of LCEMS will share his agency’s “boots on the ground” patient safety journey – why they chose to use the patient assessment surveys, some of the results, actions they took to make improvements, and their future plans. Debby Vossenkemper, Center for Patient Safety consultant, will share details of the survey and discuss how it sets the stage to improve patient safety culture and patient care.

Visit the CPS’s “The Road to High Reliability” for additional information and to register. 

Learn more about patient safety

Learn more about patient safety quality measures with these resources from EMS1:

About the speakers

Deborah (Debby) A. Vossenkemper, MBA, CPHQ, is a consultant for the Center for Patient Safety. She served as the SSM Health System vice president patient safety and quality (18 hospitals) from 2013 to 2018. She was responsible for oversight and alignment of patient safety and quality (PSQ) functions and outcomes across SSM Health and provided PSQ consultative support for the SSM Health hospitals. During her 42 year career with SSM Health, she held various leadership roles in the hospital, region and system level in the areas of patient safety, clinical quality, performance improvement, regulatory, risk management, care management, infection prevention, information management and health information management. Vossenkemper was an adjunct professor for 10 years at St. Charles Community College in the School of Allied Health and served as a guest lecturer in the Health Information Management program at St. Louis University. She earned her Bachelor of Health Information degree from St. Louis University and MBA from Fontbonne University. In 1996, she earned her certification as a Professional in Healthcare Quality (CPHQ). In 2005, she achieved Six Sigma Green Belt certification. Vossenkemper also served with the Excellence in Missouri Foundation, Missouri Quality Award program (MBNQA) for over 13 years in varying roles as an examiner, senior examiner, team leader, judge and the chair of the Panel of Judges.

Colin Johnson is a captain in the Office of the Medical Director, within the Lee County Department of Public Safety, Division of Emergency Medical Services. Some of his responsibilities include clinical quality assurance, clinical quality improvement, patient safety initiatives and clinical best practice identification. Prior to becoming a captain, Colin served as a lieutenant with the Office of Training and Staff Development, a field training officer, a paramedic and an EMT.

In addition to his primary role with the Office of the Medical Director, Colin also serves as the team leader with the Operational Medical Support (tactical) team assigned to the Fort Myers Police Department and as an assistant team leader with the Operational Medical Support team assigned to the Lee County Sheriff’s Office. His formal education includes a Master of Science Degree in Psychology and a Bachelor of Science Degree in Health Studies.

Recommended for you

Join the discussion

Copyright © 2021 EMS1. All rights reserved.