Improving patient safety has always been a key focus in hospital settings, but the release of a 1999 study was a wakeup call to the country and caused all of us in healthcare to look at ways to improve our cultures of safety.

In 1999, the Institute of Medicine published the study “To Err is Human” that estimated between 45,000 to 98,000 people died in hospitals each year as a result of preventable medical errors. Pen Bay Medical Center focuses on managing the safe use of medications because almost every patient who comes to the hospital receives medication.

One of the ways that Pen Bay measures medication safety systems is through the Maine Health Management Coalition’s Medication Spotlight Survey. This annual survey, updated each year, measures the types of medication safety processes in place at hospitals. Examples of medication safety processes in place in Pen Bay include:

• computerized physician order entry of medications eliminates the need for handwritten orders which may be illegible and could lead to error

• bedside medication verification allows the nurse to utilize bar code scanning technology to ensure the drug at hand is the one actually ordered for the patient

• automated dispensing machines on the nursing units provide computer-controlled storage, dispensing and tracking of medications

While automation is important, the real success in patient safety comes from the staff, who are mindful of what they are doing each day and are working together to find further improvements. The recent renewal of Pen Bay's “A” Hospital Safety Score for preventable medication errors, injuries, accidents and infections, and the national “Top Hospital” designation by The Leapfrog Group are indications of successes on the way to Excellence Always for our patients and families – right here in the Midcoast.

To learn more about Pen Bay's commitment to the highest safety standards and excellent patient care, visit For more information about the Maine Health Management Coalition or to compare Maine hospitals or doctors, visit You can also download the free Hospital Safety Score app for your iPhone, iPad or Android to review the safety score grades of hospitals in Maine or other areas where you might have family.

Jeffrey Kubel is a pharmacist and Pen Bay's director of Pharmacy, a position he has held at Pen Bay since 1978.