Inside Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation’s Focus on “Preventable Harm”

Here in the United States, land of state-of-the-art medical facilities and cutting-edge science, doctors and surgeons practice all manner of lifesaving wizardry: heart transplants, breathing assistance in the NICU, innovative new cancer therapies. Humans are able to survive what was unsurvivable just twenty years ago thanks to the impressive breakthroughs served up daily in the fast-paced world of American medical discovery. And yet the maxim “Do No Harm” is accidentally violated every day, all around the country. One in three hospitalized people will suffer some manner of mistreatment, incorrect medication, or other “preventable harm” while there. More than 400,000 Americans die each year from these harms.

In recent years, the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation’s health grantmaking has been more and more influenced by this persistent problem—to the point that almost all their health grantmaking initiatives contain a bullet point about “preventable harm” in their description. Most notably, GBMF in 2012 launched the Libretto ICU Consortium, a multiplayer collaboration designed to zero in on the preventable harms that occur within the intensive care unit. Due to the more demanding and higher-stakes level of care provided in the ICU, preventable harms often occur at a far greater rate than in other parts of the hospital.

GBMF has partnered with the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Johns Hopkins Medicine, and the University of California at San Francisco to tackle this problem, and they have met with some promising early successes, such as reducing the rate of blood infections at UCSF. On January 24, 2014, GBMF announced they would be awarding Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center $5.3 million to further its work within the initiative.

As a whole, this new focus really tells you something about the human-centric mission driving GBMF. Focusing on preventable harm isn’t likely to bring them as much fame or notoriety as curing brain cancer or building a fancy new hospital, but it will earn them the gratitude and admiration of thousands of patients who received good, compassionate, harm-free care.