Patient safety expert Lucian Leape has called for the creation of a federal agency to compel safer hospital practices. He thinks regulation is the only way to effectively reduce the avoidable harm that takes place in the nation’s hospitals.

“I’ll put my chips on brute force, and that is regulation,” said Leape, adjunct professor of health policy in the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) Department of Health Policy and Management, at the recent Association of Health Care Journalists conference in Boston. Following up on his remarks in a May 13, 2013 article for HealthLeaders Magazine, he said, “We need to quit blaming and punishing people when they make mistakes and recognize that errors are symptoms of a system that’s not working right, and go figure that out and change the system so no one will make that error again, hopefully. We have to change the culture so everyone feels safety is his or her responsibility and identifies hazards before someone gets hurt.”

For instance, Leape said, hospitals workers should always disinfect their hands and get immunized against influenza. “But we have no mechanism for making that happen,” he said. “If a hospital doesn’t require it, nothing happens, and that’s not right. It should be illegal….It’s incomprehensible to me that hospitals can continue to not follow practices that are known to make a real difference.”

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