Some years back, members of our committee wrote articles for Lab Testing Matters that revolved around the six aims of quality healthcare and the five competencies all healthcare professionals should possess to promote patient safety.  These aims and competencies originated with the Institute of Medicine (IOM), a group of experts appointed by the federal government to report on issues pertinent to the health of the public.  The IOM publishes its reports through the National Academies Press, and all reports are freely downloadable from  The groundbreaking reports, “To Err Is Human”1, and “Crossing the Quality Chasm”2, published in 2000 and 2001, respectively, placed a spotlight on the vast problem of medical errors, and put forth a call to action for improving the safety of patients receiving health care in the U.S.

Alarmingly, very little has improved since these first reports were published.  A recent study done by researchers at Johns Hopkins estimates that approximately 250,000 people die, each year, due to medical errors3.  If these numbers are accurate, medical error is the third leading cause of death in the U.S., behind heart disease and respiratory disease. 

Other healthcare disciplines, such as nursing and medicine, have been incorporating basic patient safety principles into their curriculum and training for years, but laboratory medicine has not yet issued a mandate for inclusion of these topics.  A more recent report issued by the National Academies Press, “Improving Diagnosis in Medicine”4, focuses on a specific subtype of medical error: diagnostic error, and specifically identifies clinical laboratory professionals in playing a key role in reducing this type of medical error.

In 2003, the National Academies Press published a report entitled “Health Professions Education – A Bridge to Quality”5, and suggested five competencies all healthcare professionals should possess.  Healthcare should be safe, efficient, effective, patient-centered, timely, and equitable (these are the six aims of quality healthcare).  To meet these aims, all healthcare practitioners should employ team-based care, wise use of informatics, evidence-based practices, strong communication strategies, and continuous quality improvement tactics.  In the coming months, authors from the Patient Safety Committee will delve more deeply into each of these five competencies and suggest modes by which these competencies can be introduced, honed, and mastered by clinical laboratory students and professionals across the country.

1Kohn, L. T., Corrigan, J., & Donaldson, M. S. (2000). To err is human: Building a safer health system.

2INSTITUTE OF MEDICINE (U.S.). (2001). Crossing the quality chasm: a new health system for the 21st century. Washington, D.C., National Academy Press.

3Makary Martin A, Daniel Michael. Medical error—the third leading cause of death in the US. BMJ 2016; 353 :i2139.

4INSTITUTE OF MEDICINE (U.S.). (2015). Improving diagnosis in healthcare. Washington, D.C., National Academy Press.

5INSTITUTE OF MEDICINE (U.S.). (2003). Health Professions Education: A Bridge to Quality. Washington, D.C., National Academies Press.