Photo of a doctor and nurse consulting at the bedside of a patient

International nursing conference focuses on patient safety

Experts look to technology to address third-leading cause of U.S. deaths: medical error

Nurses are poised to take the lead on ensuring patient safety in an American health care system, where they already make up 35% of the workforce, according to Mary Dolansky, co-chair of an international nursing conference next week focusing on the issue.

“Medical error is already the third-leading cause of death in the United States,” said Dolansky, citing a 2016 British Medical Journal paper reporting that medical errors trailed only heart disease and cancer as killers—although human or system error is rarely reported on death certificates because it doesn’t fit an international classification for diseases. “The workload and complexity of the work for nurses has skyrocketed, and we are taking the lead in addressing errors head-on—for the benefit of the patient.”

Mary Dolansky photo
Mary Dolansky

She pointed to recent news reports—from the former Vanderbilt University Medical Center nurse indicted in May for the 2017 death of a patient to whom prosecutors say she gave the wrong drug, to a recent report about patient safety issues in America’s worst-performing hospitals—as examples that medical error and patient safety are at the top of the public’s collective mind.

Dolansky, an associate professor at the Frances Payne Bolton School of Nursing at Case Western Reserve University, has seen the patient safety issue both from a personal and professional side, helping her husband through a “medical nightmare” in 2012 when she said hospital staff failed to give him required steroids—the same year she became director of the university’s QSEN Institute.

QSEN (Quality and Safety Education for Nurses) was founded in 2005 with a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, before transitioning to a university-supported institute in 2012.

“I give lectures on this issue throughout the world,” she said. “Every time I ask for a show of hands of who has been affected by medical errors, almost everyone raises their hand. This is everyone’s problem.”

Cleveland conference on quality, patient safety

Patricia Sharpnack

Dolansky is co-chair of the “QSEN Rocks International Forum” May 29-31 at the Hilton Cleveland Downtown with Patricia Sharpnack, the Strawbridge Professor and dean of the Breen School of Nursing at Ursuline College. The conference, expected to draw about 500 attendees from around the world, will examine the role of technology in improving health care and patient safety.

The conference will also emphasize “informatics,” or the science of how to use data, information and knowledge to improve human health and the delivery of health care services,” according to the American Medical Informatics Association.

“The Institute of Medicine has said we can improve health care through six specific things, and technology or informatics is one of those six—an area where we can really make an impact,” Dolansky said. “It’s technology which drives behavior and ensures quality.”

The education component of the conference would “inspire a renewed commitment to evidence-based practice for the benefit of patients,” Sharpnack said.

“The QSEN conference presents an excellent opportunity for leaders in nursing education and practice to gather and share ways to improve health care systems, and ways to better prepare students for the reality of health care,” Sharpnack said.

Case Western Reserve President Barbara R. Snyder will give opening remarks, with several other speakers scheduled during the three-day conference, including:

  • Patricia Flatley Brennan, director of the National Library of Medicine and former Case Western Reserve faculty member;
  • Mary Fey, associate director at the Institute for Medical Simulation at the Center for Medical Simulation in Boston; and
  • Peter Pronovost, chief clinical transformation officer at University Hospitals Health System.

For more information, contact Mike Scott at