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The Importance of Patient Safety in Hospitals

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As healthcare providers, it is imperative that we put ourselves in the shoes of our patients. Imagine you have just been admitted to the emergency department. It is likely that you didn’t choose this hospital, and you are anxious and scared about your current situation. These feelings are exacerbated when you learn that the institution to which you have been admitted ranks poorly for care quality and patient safety. Your fear is now two-fold: 1 – will I be ok, and 2 – will this hospital cause more harm than good. It’s a scary thought.

Unfortunately, this notion is a reality for countless patients in the United States.  As best stated by the World Health Organization (WHO), “There is now overwhelming evidence that significant numbers of patients are harmed from their healthcare either resulting in permanent injury, increased length of stay (LOS) in hospitals and even death.” According to The Leapfrog Group, a staggering 440,000 people die every year from preventable errors in hospitals.

So why has this problem escalated to the point where every day over 1,000 people die from preventable errors? The WHO goes on, “We have learnt over the last decade that adverse events occur not because bad people intentionally hurt patients, but rather that the system of healthcare today is so complex that the successful treatment and outcome for each patient depends on a range of factors, not just the competence of an individual healthcare provider.”

If the issue is truly systemic, hospitals need to approach their patient safety initiatives in a wholistic, systemic way and that starts by creating a culture of patient safety.


Patient Safety Starts at the Top

First and foremost, patient safety at an institutional level starts at the top. This means that hospital leadership is not dictating rules for employees to follow, but rather fostering a culture of patient safety.

It is important to understand the distinction. Rules are generally forced upon us, and we typically follow them begrudgingly, taking every opportunity we can to break them. Culture is based on belief, which sits at the foundation of our self-image and controls our actions and behaviors.

Culture is no small thing to build or change, but a good starting point is for your hospital’s leadership to truly embrace patient safety and provide positive reinforcement for behaviors that further it.

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Patient Safety Goals

As with any performance improvement, you need to set goals. If you are having difficulty deciding where to focus, I recommend reviewing the Joint Commission’s 2018 National Patient Safety Goals.

This initiative is designed to improve patient safety and outlines goals focused on problems in healthcare safety and how to solve them. The goals focus on various areas, treatments, and procedures that could all be transformed in the name of patient safety. They are presented in such a way that not only provides the Joint Commission’s rationale in choosing them, but also the elements of performance required to satisfy them. Meeting these goals is vital to any hospital that wishes to be accredited by the Joint Commission.

With the rise of fee-for-performance models, it is in your hospital’s best interest to minimize risk for each admitted patient and maximize patient safety. A healthcare institution that strives to transform patient safety culture and set measurable and attainable patient safety goals, by default, strives for a better care experience.

As a by-product, these transformed hospitals will likely lower their 30-day readmission rate, increase employee morale, and forge a name for themselves as world-class institutions in healthcare. However, the biggest and most important benefit is the number of lives that will be saved.

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