OR Excellence - Where Leaders Meet, Learn and Grow Together

Red Rock Casino Resort & Spa
Las Vegas, Nevada
October 11-13, 2017

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Ridley Barron

Ridley Barron

Every ½ Second Counts: A Victim's Perspective on Patient Safety

A conversation with OR Excellence speaker Ridley Barron

In 2004, a car accident took the life of Ridley Barron's wife, Sarah, and seriously injured his son, Josh. Then, in the hospital in the days that followed, 17-month-old Josh lost his life as a result of a medication error. Challenged by the deep despair he felt, Mr. Barron chose to turn the tragedies he'd experienced into something positive. Now in demand as a speaker, Mr. Barron travels the country, challenging individuals and institutions to make patient safety a top priority. We recently talked to him about his journey.

Q: What is the significance of the half-second you refer to?

Mr. Barron — It stems from a conversation about 3 weeks after the accident. A friend of mine said, "Do you realize that at that speed, if your van had arrived at the intersection just a half second sooner or later, this wreck never would have happened and your family would be OK?" Obviously, that made an impression on me.

Q: How does that apply to the message you're delivering now?

Mr. Barron — I've realized that it has a wide range of applications for people who listen to what I have to share — everything from the pharmacist who could have double-checked the medication in a half-second before she sent it to my son that day, to a doctor who takes an extra half-second to go over his checklist before he performs a surgery, to the teenager who looks away from the road for a half-second because he wants to look at a text while driving. In my life, the driver (who caused the accident) missed a stop sign because he glanced away, and the pharmacist did her job except for taking that half-second to double-check medication that should have been double-checked. Two simple, seemingly minor choices turned out to be really major in the course of events. We can't underestimate how important our decisions are and the number of people they can impact beyond us.

Q: How did you find the strength to go on after the tragedies?

Mr. Barron — The day after the accident, the first time I saw my other children, I realized that my son, my daughter and Josh — who was still alive at that point — that all 3 of them were going to need a dad to take care of them and that if I chose to be bitter, it would not only rob them of the dad they needed, it would also rob me of the opportunity to move forward and to heal.

Q: What inspired you to deliver your message to others?

Mr. Barron — The vice president of risk management at the hospital where it happened was the one who first saw the opportunity for us to bring something good out of this, and he was the one who invited me to come and speak that first time at the hospital. I had no idea it would turn out to be anything more than that one event. I was just going to go share some thoughts and then go home and move on.

Q: What was it like when you returned there to speak?

Mr. Barron — It was really, really hard being back in that hospital. I did not know the people who were involved in my son's event. I did not remember them. But I remember thinking I was looking in the eyes of people who'd been responsible for my son's situation, and that I was speaking to them.

Q: What did you talk about that day and what do you focus on now?

Mr. Barron — I talk about what I call 7 perspectives from my side of the bed — things my family learned as I reflected back on the situation and what happened with my son. I touch on everything from reminding healthcare workers that when somebody comes into the hospital that it's a foreign world to them and not a place they want to be, to developing cultures of safety, to speaking a language people can understand. We've also got to remember that families want to be involved with their family members and their care. They want to be included in conversations.

Q: What about dealing with extremely painful situations, like the one involving your son?

Mr. Barron — It's important to always be open and honest with patients and family, even when it's painful and difficult. The fact is, most of the time it's difficult. But it's always the better policy to tell the truth and deal with the situation. When we're more open and honest, yes, we have to deal with unfortunate circumstances, yes, we have to deal with the fallout from bad events, like my son's case, but it's much better to deal with all that when it happens than to try to deal with it 5 years down the road, when the truth comes out anyway. I will say that over the last 11 years, there's been more of a policy of transparency in hospitals. But unfortunately there are still hospitals and individuals who aren't transparent. It's really easy to look at others and say we need to be open and honest. But then when it's your situation, you may not be so sure you want to be open and honest.

Q: Do you think providers need better training to handle those painful situations?

Mr. Barron — I'm not really familiar with all the things doctors and nurses have to take in school, but I do think that if it's not part of the curriculum, it's a travesty. People frequently ask me if there's something I could recommend that would help doctors and nurses have these kinds of conversations. They're just not trained in how to do it. I sympathize with that. As a pastor, I'm taught how to handle families in crisis and marriages that are in trouble, and how to sit with families who have lost a loved one. But if you're a doctor, you're not prepared for that, and it's a huge task if you don't have the tools to do it. That's what medicine is about — life and death and unfortunate events that sometimes doctors can't control. And they have to be the messengers that bring that stuff to us.

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