Free online course educates about hospital infections

WASHINGTON – Despite best efforts, there are still medical patients who acquire infections in a hospital or become victims of unintentional medical mistakes.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which monitors patient safety in the U.S., says 5 percent to 10 percent of hospitalized patients get infections each year. The CDC says the costs are high — 99,000 deaths and an estimated $20 billion in health care costs.

Aware of the extent of the problem, health care providers and medical schools around the country are stepping up their patient safety programs. Among them is Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. It is taking a course it developed for its own students and faculty and putting it online for the general public.

The course, called “The Science of Safety In Healthcare,” is being offered free to anyone who is interested. And while it doesn’t provide college credit, its creators hope the course will engage patients and their families and make them part of a health care team.

Cheryl Dennison-Himmelfarb, an associate professor at the Johns Hopkins University School of Nursing, is one of the co-instructors of the patient safety course. She says the material is presented in an understandable way for both clinicians and those without formal medical training.

Dennison-Himelfarb says the goal is to use patients and their families as extra eyes and ears to help pick up on problems before it’s too late.

“I think the bottom line message is that we are all responsible,” she says.

“And we all have a role to play in improving the safety of health care.”

She says the hope is participants will complete the course with a greater appreciations of the challenges associated with delivering safe health care, and a better understanding of the questions and concerns that should be shared with medical professionals.

The online course begins Monday and will last for five weeks.

Dennison-Himmelfarb estimates the course work load will be about two to five hours a week.

Register for the class on Coursera.

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