Operation Smile helps to strengthen health systems and elevate global standards

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Operation Smile helps to strengthen health systems and elevate global standards

Bryan Zimmerman, left, and his team during an Operation Smile mission to Vietnam. (Photo: Operation Smile)

Fri. 17 September 2021


Observed annually on Sept. 17, World Patient Safety Day aims to raise global awareness about patient safety and calls for action to reduce patient harm. The theme for this year is “safe maternal and newborn care.”

In addition to providing children and adults with free reconstructive cleft surgery, global nonprofit Operation Smile works to strengthen the health systems of the countries they serve to make them safer.

With stronger health systems in place, pregnant women in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) are more likely to receive the proper care and treatment they need, therefore reducing the risks of errors and complications surrounding mothers and their newborn children.

As Operation Smile’s vice president of medical quality, Bryan Zimmerman is passionate about ensuring patient safety. In recognizing this year’s World Patient Safety Day, Zimmerman is sharing the importance of strengthening health systems in LMICs and elevating global health standards. Zimmerman is responsible for the overall planning, direction and operation of quality, risk management and patient safety.

“The goal of the field of patient safety is to minimize adverse events and eliminate preventable harm in health care,” Zimmerman explained. “Patient safety is more than a set of rules or directives – rather patient safety is a culture and mindset that is driven from the top down. The Operation Smile Leadership Team is clear that quality health services across the world must be effective, safe, and patient-centered.”

Through this work, Zimmerman and the Operation Smile team are helping to mitigate risks so that others can live safely.

“The best part of my position is getting to support our care teams while we provide hope, compassion, and a drastically improved quality of life to the patients we serve,” Zimmerman said.

Operation Smile revolutionized cleft surgery globally in 1982. With nearly four decades of experience as one of the largest surgical volunteer-based nonprofits, Operation Smile staff, its private-public partnerships and thousands of volunteers have improved the health and dignity of patients with cleft conditions, helping them to better breathe, eat, speak, and live lives of greater quality and confidence.

In several of the countries where Operation Smile provides care, many people can’t afford to pay for an operation or live far away from a hospital and lack the means to get there. Additionally, some of the most significant barriers to surgical care are the lack of health care workers, trained surgeons and physical infrastructure needed to meet the demands of people living with cleft conditions.

That’s why Operation Smile is committed to helping patients and health systems in LMICs overcome these daunting challenges so that everyone who needs cleft surgery can receive effective treatment as soon in their lives as possible.

“The importance of LMIC health system strengthening in terms of patient safety is to garner the value of being trustworthy,” Zimmerman said. “This is not because errors will not be made, and adverse events will never happen, but because all health systems hold themselves accountable for applying safety sciences optimally as a paramount objective. Through strengthening patient safety systems, harm can be prevented.”

Through helping LMICs strengthen their health systems, Operation Smile is not only serving patients with cleft conditions but entire communities, including pregnant women and newborn children.

“Operation Smile is dedicated to improving maternal mortality in these high-risk countries and enhancing the miracle of birth across all health systems we engage with,” Zimmerman explained. “By addressing the unique needs and opportunities that each system may require, we can begin to address the issue of safe pregnancy and delivery.”

While one cleft surgery can bring immediate transformation to a child’s life in as little as 45 minutes, Operation Smile is committed to providing patients with health that lasts — being there to offer patients additional surgeries, dentistry, psychological services, speech therapy and other essential cleft treatments. Its training and education programs elevate local surgical standards and entire health systems to aid safe surgery and strengthen a global network to reach more people earlier in their lives.

More information about this transformative and healing work is available at operationsmile.org or by following @operationsmile on social media.

(Source: Operation Smile)

Access to care Charity mission Orofacial clefts

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