Program Profile

Understanding Principles of High Reliability Organizations Through the Eyes of VIONE, A Clinical Program to Improve Patient Safety by Deprescribing Potentially Inappropriate Medications and Reducing Polypharmacy

The assessment of polypharmacy and reduction of potentially inappropriate medications using VIONE has benefited about 60,000 veterans with more than 128,000 medications deprescribed, yielding more than $4 million in annualized cost avoidance.

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High reliability organizations (HROs) incorporate continuous process improvement through leadership commitment to create a safety culture that works toward creating a zero-harm environment.1 The Veterans Health Administration (VHA) has set transformational goals for becoming an HRO. In this article, we describe VIONE, an expanding medication deprescribing clinical program, which exemplifies the translation of HRO principles into health care system models. Both VIONE and HRO are globally relevant.

Reducing medication errors and related adverse drug events are important for achieving zero harm. Preventable medical errors rank behind heart disease and cancer as the third leading cause of death in the US.2 The simultaneous use of multiple medications can lead to dangerous drug interactions, adverse outcomes, and challenges with adherence. When a person is taking multiple medicines, known as polypharmacy, it is more likely that some are potentially inappropriate medications (PIM). Current literature highlights the prevalence and dangers of polypharmacy, which ranks among the top 10 common causes of death in the US, as well as suggestions to address preventable adverse outcomes from polypharmacy and PIM.3-5

Deprescribing of PIM frequently results in better disease management with improved health outcomes and quality of life.4 Many health care settings lack standardized approaches or set expectations to proactively deprescribe PIM. There has been insufficient emphasis on how to make decisions for deprescribing medications when therapeutic benefits are not clear and/or when the adverse effects may outweigh the therapeutic benefits.5

It is imperative to provide practice guidance for deprescribing nonessential medications along with systems-based infrastructure to enable integrated and effective assessments during opportune moments in the health care continuum. Multimodal approaches that include education, risk stratification, population health management interventions, research and resource allocation can help transform organizational culture in health care facilities toward HRO models of care, aiming at zero harm to patients.

The practical lessons learned from VIONE implementation science experiences on various scales and under diverse circumstances, cumulative wisdom from hindsight, foresight and critical insights gathered during nationwide spread of VIONE over the past 3 years continues to propel us toward the desirable direction and core concepts of an HRO.

The VIONE program facilitates practical, real-time interventions that could be tailored to various health care settings, organizational needs, and available resources. VIONE implements an electronic Computerized Patient Record System (CPRS) tool to enable planned cessation of nonessential medications that are potentially harmful, inappropriate, not indicated, or not necessary. The VIONE tool supports systematic, individualized assessment and adjustment through 5 filters (Figure 1). It prompts providers to assign 1 of these filters intuitively and objectively. VIONE combines clinical evidence for best practices, an interprofessional team approach, patient engagement, adapted use of existing medical records systems, and HRO principles for effective implementation.

As a tool to support safer prescribing practices, VIONE aligns closely with HRO principles (Table 1) and core pillars (Table 2).6-8 A zero-harm safety culture necessitates that medications be used for correct reasons, over a correct duration of time, and following a correct schedule while monitoring for adverse outcomes. However, reality generally falls significantly short of this for a myriad of reasons, such as compromised health literacy, functional limitations, affordability, communication gaps, patients seen by multiple providers, and an accumulation of prescriptions due to comorbidities, symptom progression, and management of adverse effects. Through a sharpened focus on both precision medicine and competent prescription management, VIONE is a viable opportunity for investing in the zero-harm philosophy that is integral to an HRO.

Design and Implementation

Initially launched in 2016 in a 15-bed inpatient, subacute rehabilitation unit within a VHA tertiary care facility, VIONE has been sustained and gradually expanded to 38 other VHA facility programs (Figure 2). Recognizing the potential value if adopted into widespread use, VIONE was a Gold Status winner in the VHA Under Secretary for Health Shark Tank-style competition in 2017 and was selected by the VHA Diffusion of Excellence as an innovation worthy of scale and spread through national dissemination.9 A toolkit for VIONE implementation, patient and provider brochures, VIONE vignette, and National Dialog template also have been created.10

Implementing VIONE in a new facility requires an actively engaged core team committed to patient safety and reduction of polypharmacy and PIM, interest and availability to lead project implementation strategies, along with meaningful local organizational support. The current structure for VIONE spread is as follows:

  • Interested VHA participants review information and contact [email protected].
  • The VIONE team orients implementing champions, mainly pharmacists, physicians, nurse practitioners, and physician assistants at a facility program level, offering guidance and available resources.
  • Clinical Application Coordinators at Central Arkansas VA Healthcare System and participating facilities collaborate to add deprescribing menu options in CPRS and install the VIONE Polypharmacy Reminder Dialog template.
  • Through close and ongoing collaborations, medical providers and clinical pharmacists proceed with deprescribing, aiming at planned cessation of nonessential and PIM, using the mnemonic prompt of VIONE. Vital and Important medications are continued and consolidated while a methodical plan is developed to deprescribe any medications that could lead to more harm than benefit and qualify based on the filters of Optional, Not indicated, and Every medicine has a diagnosis/reason. They select the proper discontinuation reasons in the CPRS medication menu (Figure 3) and document the rationale in the progress notes. It is highly encouraged that the collaborating pharmacists and health care providers add each other as cosigners and communicate effectively. Clinical pharmacy specialists also use the VIONE Polypharmacy Reminder Dialog Template (RDT) to document complete medication reviews with veterans to include deprescribing rationale and document shared decision making.
  • A VIONE national dashboard captures deprescribing data in real time and automates reporting with daily updates that are readily accessible to all implementing facilities. Minimum data captured include the number of unique veterans impacted, number of medications deprescribed, cumulative cost avoidance to date, and number of prescriptions deprescribed per veteran. The dashboard facilitates real-time use of individual patient data and has also been designed to capture data from VHA administrative data portals and Corporate Data Warehouse.


As of October 31, 2019, the assessment of polypharmacy using the VIONE tool across VHA sites has benefited > 60,000 unique veterans, of whom 49.2% were in urban areas, 47.7% in rural areas, and 3.1% in highly rural areas. Elderly male veterans comprised a clear majority. More than 128,000 medications have been deprescribed. The top classes of medications deprescribed are antihypertensives, over-the-counter medications, and antidiabetic medications. An annualized cost avoidance of > $4.0 million has been achieved. Cost avoidance is the cost of medications that otherwise would have continued to be filled and paid for by the VHA if they had not been deprescribed, projected for a maximum of 365 days. The calculation methodology can be summarized as follows:


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