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Release: Oct. 10, 2000

Iowa gets grant to improve patient safety and health outcomes

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- The report by the national Institute of Medicine, "To Err is Human, Building a Safer Health System," issued last year, was a challenge to the American health care system to identify its problems and craft workable solutions.

Through the help of Sen. Tom Harkin, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has given a $500,000 grant to the University of Iowa College of Public Health and the Iowa Department of Public Health to do just that.

Iowa's health-care system may already be among the nation's best. A nationwide study, published last week in the Journal of the American Medical Association, ranked Iowa eighth among the states and territories in the quality of medical care provided to Medicare patients. Indeed, the mortality rates due to medical errors reported by the Institute of Medicine may not be applicable to Iowa.

"We don't yet know the extent of any problems in Iowa," said Dr. Stephen Gleason, director of the Iowa Department of Public Health. "But I believe any problems discovered will be due principally to flaws in the health care system as a whole rather than the result of errors by Iowa's health-care providers."

Christopher Atchison, UI associate professor of health management and policy and principal investigator for the study, said the project will build on existing strengths to attempt to raise the level of patient care even higher.

"We want this state to become a national model for the improvement of patient safety and health," he said.

The Iowa project, beginning with an in-depth assessment of patient safety, will be a joint endeavor of the state health department and the UI College of Public Health. An advisory committee consisting of health care leaders from the public and private sectors, including business and labor organizations, consumers, government, insurers, and health-care providers, will be invited to participate.

The Iowa Council of Scientific and Health Advisors also resolved to study the issues raised by the Institute of Medicine report. Said Dr. Sheila Riggs, the council's co-chair: "Our goal is to increase patient safety."

Besides Atchison, Dr. Douglas Wakefield, UI professor of health management and policy, and Dr. Mary Mincer Hansen, a research fellow at the Iowa Department of Public Health, will collaborate on the study.