In September 2001, the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) and the ABIM Foundation jointly sponsored an invitational conference entitled “The Role and Responsibility of Physicians to Improve Patient Safety.” The goal of the conference was to begin a national conversation focusing on the individual clinician's role and strategies physicians might employ to advance patient safety. The authors summarize the main themes and issues that emerged at the conference.
The authors draw from work by the Institute of Medicine (IOM) to support the need for greater emphasis on quality improvement. To date, most of the work in this area has involved a systems-level approach, and physicians are often viewed as obstacles to improvement programs. By contrast, physicians may view population- or systems-based approaches to health care as interfering with the delivery of care to specific patients. The authors argue that physicians, individually and collectively, have a key role in quality improvement efforts, albeit a role that is yet fully defined. After reviewing successful examples involving physicians, the authors explore the major levers to achieve change—removing barriers, creating incentives, emphasizing collaboration, increasing education, and promulgating regulation—and summarize ten recurring themes, including both current and near-term opportunities, for physicians to exercise leadership in quality improvement and patient safety. Finally, they assert that even modest change can lead to substantial improvements, particularly if medical societies and the profession's standard-setting bodies work together.