March 14 kicks off Patient Safety Awareness Week, an annual recognition of the essential need to improve safety in all settings.

For nurses, awareness about patient safety impacts every aspect of their work. From medication prescriptions and delivery, to diagnoses and follow up, to ambulatory safety and safety of those who are bedridden, to the treatment of conditions and issues that affect virtually every area of the body, nurses place safety at the very top of the list of what they do.

No matter how careful healthcare workers are and how much they prioritize patient safety, there’s always room for improvement. And the numbers are alarming when it comes to the widespread impact errors have.  According to the World Health Organization, as many as 4 in 10 patients are harmed in primary and outpatient healthcare situations across the globe. Of the harm done, more than three-quarters of the cases are preventable and the most harmful errors fall under medication use, prescriptions, and medical diagnosis. Even treatment in some of the highest income nations with excellent healthcare isn’t entirely protective. One in 10 patients suffers harm in a hospital setting in these countries and almost half of those errors are preventable.

Organizations including the Center for Patient Safety and the Institute for Healthcare Improvement (IHI) advocate for attention to common ways where patients are harmed during healthcare treatment. Resources such as the Patient Safety Essentials Toolkit from the IHI can help nurses and nursing teams assess their typical workflow and make changes that can have a big impact on outcomes. From the SBAR (Situation-Background-Assessment-Recommendation) technique to better communication, even small adjustments in the way a unit operates can improve patient outcomes and safety for both patients and staff.

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Celebrate Patient Safety Awareness Week March 12 to 18

The opportunity for improvement is extensive. According to the WHO, patient harm occurs on many levels and in varied settings. From medication error to infection prevention practices to radiation errors or unsafe injection practices, the potential for mistakes occurs across the spectrum of care. It can also include harm such as falls and other unintentional injury.

Nurse leaders and healthcare management can also promote a culture of safety for all, because a workforce that feels protected will likely have the resources and culture in place necessary to promote safety for patients as well. In one study Does Employee Safety Matter for Patients Too? Employee Safety Climate and Patient Safety Culture in Health Care, the authors found that increased focus on employee safety had a positive correlation to safety for patients and better outcomes.

The American Society for Healthcare Risk Management has several tip sheets that can help providers address issues from incident reporting to technology and safety of patients.  The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality also offers resources for improving and addressing patient safety.

As a nurse, educating yourself about the latest evidence-based safety practices is always good professional development, as is learning new skills. Take courses, read journals, and investigate what other healthcare settings are doing successfully. Promote safety practices on your unit and advocate for opportunities to learn more about protecting your patients at work, whether that’s through speakers, seminars, or with hands-on education and projects.

What is one thing you can do to elevate your own practice this week?

Julia Quinn-Szcesuil
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The Link Between Cultural Communication, Hospital Safety, and Desired Outcomes
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