Dr. Hardeep Singh Earns Prestigious John M. Eisenberg Award for Lifetime Work Improving Patient Safety

Hardeep Singh, MD, MPH, an informatics leader, patient safety advocate and innovator, and friend of the Jewish Healthcare Foundation (JHF), has been awarded the Individual Achievement Award in the 20th John M. Eisenberg Patient Safety and Quality Awards for demonstrating exceptional leadership and scholarship in patient safety and healthcare quality through his substantive lifetime body of work.

The Joint Commission and National Quality Forum present Eisenberg Awards annually to recognize major achievements to improve patient safety and healthcare quality.

Dr. Singh, chief of the Health Policy, Quality & Informatics Program in the Center for Innovations in Quality, Effectiveness and Safety at Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center and professor at Baylor College of Medicine, was recognized for his pioneering career in diagnostic and health IT safety and his commitment to translating his research into pragmatic tools, strategies, and innovations for improving patient safety.

His commitment to improving patient safety began while pursuing his Master of Public Health at the Medical College of Wisconsin in 2002 when he first learned the field of patient safety existed. That commitment was galvanized early in his medical career, as he found himself treating patients who had been misdiagnosed, received unsafe care, or experienced poor outcomes.

One in 20 adults in the United States will have a diagnostic error annually in the outpatient setting. Seven to eight percent of electronically communicated abnormal test results are lost to follow-up, a high-risk clinical process that can lead to care delays and patient harm.

These early studies by Dr. Singh inspired him to pursue additional research into strategies to improve clinicians' ability to make accurate diagnoses and avoid delays in care that can lead to worse outcomes and making practice and policy impact on improving systems of care across the nation.

He found that, although this was an area ripe for research, it also presented numerous challenges.

"Beginning a research career in an area where scientific knowledge is under-developed and research funding is little is an enormous risk. But perseverance helped me create a vision for diagnostic safety research and build a strong, mission-driven multidisciplinary team to improve diagnosis," Dr. Singh said.

The breadth and depth of Dr. Singh's research work is remarkable, but what is most notable is the extent to which he has succeeded in translating it into pragmatic strategies and innovations for improving patient safety. Dr. Singh emphasized that while the Eisenberg Award recognizes an individual for their achievements, his work in patient safety has been successful because of its multi-disciplinary and collaborative approach with psychologists, human factors engineers, social scientists, informaticians, patients, and more.

That work has led to the development of several tools to improve patient safety, including The Safer Dx Checklist, which helps organizations perform proactive self-assessment on where they stand in terms of diagnostic safety; Measure Dx, which helps hospitals and practices learn from and implement strategies for learning from diagnostic safety events; and Calibrate Dx, a forthcoming resource to help clinicians improve through feedback and learning systems.

"As an immigrant and an international medical graduate, I have had a lifelong dream to make an impact on health care. I saw every scientific project as an opportunity to change health care. So, I made a personal commitment that my research must use a pragmatic, real-world improvement lens and challenge the status quo in quality and safety," Dr. Singh said.

His commitment to improving patient safety was further solidified during the COVID-19 pandemic as its collateral impacts included patient safety issues such as increases in falls, delays in care, disruptions in care, postponement of elective procedures, delays in cancer diagnosis, misdiagnosis, misinformation, supply chain issues, and leadership vulnerabilities, as outlined in a recent report by the World Health Organization, on which he was one of the lead contributors.

Dr. Singh is an active member of JHF's Patient Safety Full Court Press and an advocate for its campaign to establish an independent federal agency, a National Patient Safety Board, to monitor and anticipate adverse events in health care and conduct centralized studies into medical mishaps and systematic breakdowns, using de-identified data from electronic health records, artificial intelligence and reporting from other agencies to identify cause-and-effect relationships and issue timely recommendations to improve national patient safety.

"Improving patient safety requires transforming systems of care and building more resilient health systems," Dr. Singh said. "I really enjoy working with JHF because it is a very novel collaborative environment of people working in different fields and with different backgrounds who share an interest in patient safety and encourage out-of-the-box thinking and diverse perspectives."

As for the next generation of researchers and practitioners, Dr. Singh firmly believes they should be more attuned to principles of patient safety, despite the reality of working in system that often prioritizes profit over safety.

"We need medical and nursing students to be sensitized to these topics. We need health professionals talking about patient safety much early in their career path. We spend a lot of time learning anatomy and physiology and other basic sciences, we need a similar focus on patient safety," Dr. Singh said.

As his work in patient safety continues to take shape, he has also found a new passion for helping U.S. health systems –which contribute about 8.5 percent of carbon emissions in the U.S. – to reduce their carbon footprint and address climate change.

"What's so rewarding about the Eisenberg Award is that it has validated my quest to stay persistent. My research career had a rocky start and in 2005 I nearly gave up because I failed to any grants despite multiple attempts. Passion and perseverance kept me going and I felt this was the right thing to do in my life and career," he said, adding with a laugh, "Now there's so much to do. I won't be retiring any time soon." 

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