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Involving Patients in Patient Safety Initiatives

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In my post from June, "The Importance of Patient Safety in Hospitals," I discussed the major impact preventable errors play in patient safety, causing over 1,000 deaths a day in hospitals. I also discussed how patient safety needs to be at the cornerstone of an organization's culture to truly make an impact.

In this post, I’d like to shift focus to something a little more specific concerning safety: patient engagement. What we may periodically forget is that organizations do not need to operate alone in their pursuit of high-quality, safe patient care. In fact, positive outcomes are enhanced when patients and their family members are called upon to play a critical role in supporting safety and safe practices throughout their treatment.


3 Steps to Enhance Patient Safety Initiatives

What steps can clinicians and managers take to better involve patients in patient safety initiatives? Here are three to consider acting upon in your organization.

1. Prioritize Communication

First, and perhaps most importantly, organizations must strive for open and clear communication between staff and patients and their families when speaking about care. 

According to a Joint Commission report, "What Did the Doctor Say? Improving Health Literacy to Protect Patient Safety," communication problems among health care providers, patients, and patients’ family members are a leading cause of adverse outcomes in care. A significant contributor to these problems is health literacy, which can be defined as “the capacity of individuals to obtain, process, and understand basic health information and services needed to make appropriate health decisions."

It is the responsibility — and, one could argue, the privilege — of health care providers to clearly communicate the role patients and family members should play during the care process at a level that aligns with their health literacy and preferred language.

2. Encourage Patient Participation

Another step organizations should consider is encouraging patients to take a more active role in their own safety. This includes educating patients about safety hazards and providing questions patients can ask their caregivers regarding safety throughout their visit and during future treatments. A simple question such as “Did you wash your hands?” can make the difference between a patient developing an infection or going home on time and in good health.

One approach to consider taking to help educate patients about their role in safety is to require viewing of a patient safety video upon admittance. This video could include appropriate questions patients may ask their providers and serve to alleviate patient concerns about coming off as confrontational when posing questions. Note: If you plan to show such a video to patients, make sure it is available in multiple languages and ensure patients can choose which language they want to hear. You may also want to have written scripts available in a variety of languages in the event that the video's language choices do not align with a patient's preferred language.

3. Rely on Patient Surveys

Finally, one of the most useful methods of involving patients in patient safety initiatives is using patient surveys as an error detection mechanism. As an Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality patient safety primer notes, “Studies in the inpatient setting have found that patients often report errors that were not detected through traditional mechanisms such as chart review.” Closely review any concerning information expressed in surveys and then explore whether opportunities exist for you to improve processes that can help reduce the likelihood of future patients experiencing those same concerns.

Final Thoughts

Involving patients in their safety is an effective way to reduce errors in hospitals. By educating patients and family members on proper safety procedures, encouraging patients to take an active role in their care, and using feedback surveys as a tool in error detection and prevention, organizations can work to reduce safety risks and increase overall patient satisfaction. 

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