I was honored to receive the 2001 Lectureship Award from the Society for Healthcare Epidemiology of America (SHEA). It was my intent during the talk to review our field and implications that some of the new initiatives called “patient safety” have for our expertise. This article is based on the SHEA Lectureship that was given April 1, 2001, at the SHEA Annual Meeting in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.
This article consists of four sections. First, I review lessons learned from colleagues during the 33 years that I have been associated with the field of hospital epidemiology and infection control, since my first days at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Second, I explore issues raised by the Institute of Medicine (IOM) report on patient safety, adverse events, and medical errors, evaluating research that went into the extrapolation of the numbers of preventable deaths that this report highlighted. Those deaths gained everyone's attention. Third, I review the field of healthcare epidemiology, highlighting the three decades of success in our field in enhancing the safety of patients, improving their outcomes, and making a difference in the quality of medical care received in the United States. Finally, I discuss the challenges that hospital epidemiology currently faces and the opportunities that come with the expertise we have developed during more than 30 years.