Making Patient Safety a Priority in 2020

Senior Director of Marketing

Patient Safety Awareness Week, which runs March 8-14, encourages healthcare providers, organizations, patients, and the general public to learn about local and global healthcare safety issues. 

Healthcare safety issues, or “medical harm,” are a significant cause of death in the United States. Even when such errors do not result in death, they can still have long-term negative effects on a patient’s health and finances. Patient Safety Awareness Week is an opportunity for healthcare organizations to consider the potential causes of medical harm and how to prevent it.

Defining Patient Safety Issues

Most patient safety issues involve adverse events. These occur when a patient experiences harm from their medical care, not the underlying disease or injury. Different types of adverse events include:

  • Preventable adverse events, usually from error or omitting appropriate care (research suggests that these account for about half of the adverse events among hospitalized patients);
  • Ameliorable adverse events, which may not have been preventable, but could have been less harmful under different care; and
  • Negligent adverse events, which occur under medical care that is below expected standards.

Patients may also experience safety issues without being harmed. They may be placed in an unsafe situation, or an error in their care may have exposed them to a hazardous situation. 

Examples of adverse events that threaten patient safety include:

  • Medication errors, such as a patient receiving the wrong drug or dosage;
  • Misdiagnosis of a condition;
  • Discharge errors, which can occur when patients do not receive correct or sufficient information when being discharged from a hospital; and
  • Healthcare-associated infections, which may arise from improper hand hygiene or failure to follow personal protective equipment protocol.

Reducing the occurrence of such adverse events, and the risk factors that contribute to them, is a primary goal for Patient Safety Awareness Week.

How to Improve Patient Safety

Individuals and families who seek healthcare services expect their care to be safe and effective. Healthcare organizations and their staff should be committed to patient safety and improving the quality of care they provide. They should be consistently aware of risks to patient safety and take appropriate steps to reduce those risks.

 Create a Culture of Safety

The right mindset is vital for improving patient safety across healthcare settings. When a healthcare organization or provider is committed to a culture of safety, staff members watch for safety issues and take action when necessary. Individuals at each level recognize that they have a role and a responsibility for improving patient safety.

Healthcare leaders should be vocal about their commitment to safety and make necessary changes. Their messaging should be consistent and long-term. Leadership must ensure that staff has the tools they need to share safety information and report safety issues. Staff should also be assured that reporting such information will encourage change, without fear of reprisals.

Keep Up With Best Practices

Creating a culture of safety will also make it easier to observe established best practices for improving patient safety. Healthcare leaders should be proactive in learning about these best practices and implementing them appropriately.

For example, research published in the Journal of Advanced Nursing shows that safety briefings can help achieve desired outcomes and improve a healthcare organization’s safety culture. These outcomes include improved risk identification, increased safety incident reporting, staff empowerment in voicing safety concerns, and reduced patient length of stay.

Use Health IT Appropriately

Many providers admit that they lack sufficient resources or training in patient safety, according to data from the Joint Commission Center for Transforming Healthcare. Health IT solutions may help inform and equip providers and other healthcare leaders to create a safer patient experience.

  • EHRs can serve as a source of data to help improve patient safety
  • Clinical surveillance technology can extract, organize, and analyze data from EHRs and other sources and alert providers to potential issues
  • Machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI) can help analyze data to identify safety issues

Once healthcare leaders have identified patient safety goals and areas for improvement, they can leverage health IT solutions to help achieve those objectives.

Make Safety a Hiring Priority

Healthcare systems, hospitals, and other practices should keep patient safety at the forefront when it comes to hiring. Shortages of clinicians and other healthcare staff are putting a strain on many healthcare organizations, which can lead to medical errors that threaten patient safety. By maintaining adequate staffing, healthcare practices can create a better working environment for clinicians, thus providing better care for patients.

This also requires healthcare HR leaders to hire the right team members. Organizations cannot create a culture of safety without the cooperation of providers and other healthcare staff. The best employees will not only demonstrate the necessary professionalism and knowledge, but will support the organization’s safety goals.

Provider shortages and low unemployment may tempt hiring professionals to relax hiring requirements. Unfortunately, failure to properly vet potential new hires can create significant patient safety issues down the road. A comprehensive background screening process, which may include drug testing and license verifications, as well as ongoing monitoring, ensures that healthcare organizations and HR professionals will recruit and hire top talent.

Patient Safety Awareness Week is an ideal opportunity for healthcare organizations to consider their safety practices and protocols and identify areas of improvement. By creating a culture of safety, leveraging appropriate tools, and hiring appropriate staff members, healthcare organizations can improve the patient experience and remain competitive in a highly dynamic industry.