Even with the best healthcare in top-notch clinical facilities, accidents, infections, or other unwanted outcomes sometimes happen. According to the World Health Organization, globally, as many as 4 out of 10 patients experience safety issues in primary and ambulatory care settings, 2.6 million people die annually due to unsafe care in hospitals, and medication errors are estimated to cost $42 billion each year.
To maximize patient safety, doctors, nurses, and clinical administrators implement protocols designed to mitigate accidents or misdiagnoses. The importance of patient safety is paramount for healthcare facilities and patients, especially as the COVID-19 pandemic has brought new challenges for care providers.
Patient Safety Definition
In the context of clinical care, patient safety refers to the efforts of clinical providers to reduce or avoid preventable harm to the patient during treatment, as well as the need for strategies to keep patient health risks as low as possible.
Patient safety initiatives involve minimizing physical, mental, or emotional harm, as well as safeguarding private patient information. These initiatives may include protocols designed to prevent accidents, neglect, or misdiagnoses that might inadvertently harm the patient, as well as reporting issues that arise.
Types of Patient Safety Issues
Patient safety issues are wide-ranging:
- Infections as a result of medical procedures
- Resistance to antibiotics, developed through overmedication
- Slip-and-fall accidents among patients in a hospital or long-term care facility
- Failure to implement personal protective equipment at appropriate times
- Failure to ensure proper standards of sanitization in clinical facilities or patient rooms
- Errors with the prescription, administration, or management of medications
- Care transition and discharge problems, usually stemming from poor communication
Raising Awareness of Patient Safety
Patient safety has been a rising concern among medical professionals, to the extent that the first World Patient Safety Day took place in September 2019. The event aimed to raise awareness of the importance of patient safety across the globe. It was based on a resolution passed by the May 2019 World Health Assembly that recognized patient safety as a global health priority.
Understanding the Importance of Patient Safety
According to the latest scorecard report from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, improved patient safety procedures contributed to a 13% decrease in hospital-acquired conditions, such as injuries and infections, from 2014 to 2017. These procedures saved 20,700 lives and $7.7 billion in medical costs. These statistics highlight the fundamental importance of patient safety.
Providing High-Quality Care
One of the primary benefits of patient safety efforts is that they yield higher standards of clinical care. For example, safeguards against misdiagnosis ensure that patients are treated for the correct underlying condition; they help providers ensure they’re treating the root illness, not just a peripheral symptom or side effect.
These efforts, along with enhanced hospital discharge procedures, can improve care for patients with chronic conditions as well as help lower hospital readmission rates. Additionally, a patient safety program can help ensure that all of a patients’ physical and emotional needs are taken into account, even if their treatment involves a prolonged stay in a healthcare facility.
Patient safety programs help minimize preventable infections or injuries.
Medical teams that have strict facility sterilization and sanitization policies may see lower rates of patient infections, including pneumonia or surgical site infections. Hand hygiene and patient screening processes can also help reduce infection rates.
Nurses and physical therapists can rely on patient safety protocols to keep patients from injuring themselves during rehabilitation, whether by overexertion or by placing too much strain on an area still tender from surgery. Even during brief walks around a hospital floor, patients who are still weak may be prone to slipping and falling without proper assistance.
Medical facilities that enact medication management protocols can help reduce drug errors, which can occur at prescribing and dispensing stages and may result in additional patient interventions or serious patient harm.
Protecting Sensitive Patient Information
Patient safety also involves informational safety. A primary goal of a patient safety initiative is ensuring that all sensitive patient information related to their medical history or finances is kept secure. This helps save the patient from embarrassment, frustration, or financial loss, and helps the organization guard against potential regulatory issues.
Patient safety errors cost medical organizations money. Providers may have to expend additional resources and manpower to resolve injuries or infections that could have been avoided. Meanwhile, significant lapses in patient safety, including information breaches, may result in costly patient lawsuits. Errors can also harm a facility’s quality ratings, which could result in lower patient volumes or reduced reimbursement rates. Patient safety protocols can reduce unnecessary expenses, minimize legal risk, and improve a hospital’s reputation.
Tips for Improving Patient Safety
Healthcare workers can improve patient safety in many ways, including some that are specific to the COVID-19 pandemic.
General Strategies to Improve Patient Safety
Some general strategies can improve patient safety outcomes within a healthcare organization.
- Work with a Patient Safety Organization (PSO). Authorized under the Patient Safety and Quality Improvement Act of 2005, PSOs help individual organizations create safe, quality-focused, and legally secure environments for patient care.
- Use real-time alerts and reporting tools. Information technology departments can play a significant role here, providing healthcare organizations with technologies that alert doctors and nurses to major changes in vital signs or to potential patient emergencies. Such real-time tools ensure a rapid response.
- Improve data transparency. By reporting and compiling data, clinicians can identify some of their vulnerabilities and put safeguards in place.
- Measure patient safety indicators. These 26 indicators provide information on adverse safety-related events that occur during normal operations. Examples include patient deaths, infection rates, and accidental laceration rates.
- Revise handover processes. In a handover, one provider transfers patient responsibility to another, and a new “attending” physician makes decisions about care. Ensuring the right processes are in place for distributing accurate patient information is essential for high-quality care.
Healthcare workers can consider the following patient safety tips that are especially relevant to the COVID-19 era.
- Update infection control guidelines. One important way to prioritize patient safety is to consult with current infection control guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
- Enhance procedures for staff safety and emotional well-being. Making operational changes that promote employee safety during the pandemic is helpful; this might include anything from PPE access to taking periodic mental-health breaks. Helping staff members avoid burnout and fatigue can help reduce accident rates.
- Revise visitation regulations. Ensuring adherence to the most current guidelines for visitation can help reduce the spread of disease and infection.
- Communicate and collaborate with employees. By working closely with all members of the medical team, the organization can better meet their needs and hear their feedback on how to prioritize patient safety.
Healthcare organizations focusing on the importance of patient safety during the COVID-19 crisis can consider these resources:
- Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, AHRQ COVID-19 Resources. Evaluate some tools and guidelines for healthcare organizations seeking to emphasize patient safety.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Prepare Your Practice for COVID-19. Learn how individual medical practices safeguard against COVID-19 infections.
- Institute for Healthcare Improvement, COVID-19 Guidance and Resources. Consult recent guidelines from infectious disease experts.
- International Journal for Quality in Health Care, “COVID-19: Patient Safety and Quality Improvement Skills to Deploy During the Surge.” Explore some top skills that help healthcare workers keep patients safe during the pandemic.
- Patient Safety Movement, Helpful Coronavirus (COVID-19) Resources. Gain additional insights into patient safety in the age of the coronavirus pandemic.
Tips for Improving Patient Safety
Healthcare workers seeking additional patient safety guidelines or information can consult the following resources.
- Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, Patient Safety Resources by Setting. Find out about the importance of patient safety across different clinical settings, from emergency rooms to pharmacies.
- American Hospital Association, Quality & Patient Safety. Explore a range of topics related to patient safety, including infection control, emergency preparedness, and more.
- American Medical Association, Improving Patient Safety. Discover the role physicians can play in promoting patient safety.
- Center for Patient Safety, Resources. Access a trove of resources that can help promote patient safety in clinical settings.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Patient Safety. Learn about a number of patient safety-related issues, such as antibiotic control and sanitization.
- Institute for Healthcare Improvement, Patient Safety Essentials Toolkit. Check out these tools for healthcare organizations looking to safeguard their patients’ well-being.
- Patient Safety and Quality: An Evidence-Based Handbook for Nurses, Chapter 1. Take a data-driven view of patient safety and quality issues.
Become an Advocate for Patient Safety
No one can deny the importance of patient safety. Nurses, physicians, and other healthcare professionals can play a direct role in making it a top priority in any healthcare organization. Institutions that carefully review safety resources and enact strong protocols can help ensure patient safety at all points of care, ranging from diagnosis and medication administration to equipment sterilization and patient discharge.