Nurses put a priority on keeping their patients safe and Patient Safety Awareness Week, which takes place March 10-16 this year, helps focus attention on this important part of any healthcare provider’s job. No matter how much attention nurses give to patient safety, there is always room to make improvements. swirl logo for the Center for Patient Safety

But there’s more to patient safety than knowing and following procedures and protocols, says Kathy Wire, JD, MBA, CPPS, CPHRM, FASHRM, executive director of the Center for Patient Safety. The complexities of patient safety and how it is incorporated, monitored, and managed in any healthcare organization are real. Patient safety isn’t just limited to healthcare providers–it also involves the patient and the patient’s loved ones, too.

The overall organizational culture often sets the tone around patient safety. “A culture develops as a result of attitudes and related behaviors,” says Wire. “The underlying components of safety culture are well known. Some require action from senior leadership; others fit nicely in unit-based efforts. For example, supervisors can encourage non-punitive responses to errors, focusing on addressing underlying system issues and acknowledging human fallibility.”

Nurses often look to leadership to implement processes in which questioning a decision or a process is supported. If nurses push back on something that appears unsafe, they need to know they will have a manager’s support, she says. And this kind of transparency is in the best interests of any organization as patient safety is often tied to nurse safety. “A lack of patient safety can lead to errors and near misses that any conscientious nurse will find disturbing,” says Wire. “Even minor events can trigger this ‘second victim’ phenomenon. Many provider organizations have developed programs to address this trauma in their staff, but isn’t it better to prevent the issue in the first place?” And in the high-stress situations when loved ones are concerned about the care being given, anger and fear can spark threats to nurses, so open communication is essential, she says.

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A patient’s family and loved ones contribute immensely to patient safety, says Wire. As nurses need to feel comfortable about being vocal about safety, loved ones also need to be heard and feel they can raise questions safely. Nurses also can trust that those closest to the patient can be advocates and have information the nurse might not. “Helping them understand planned nursing interventions and treatments while encouraging them to ask questions will establish that relationship,” says Wire. “We must let them know that an additional, dedicated set of eyes and ears can help busy nurses provide the best care. For example, family members can often recognize subtle changes in the patient’s condition that may be more difficult for a nurse to see.”

Even the best environment can’t prevent all errors. “Good safety culture tells us that people make mistakes and can drift from the ‘standard,'” says Wire. “Reporting mistakes and errors helps the organization learn about gaps in policy and how well it is supporting its nurses, and it also helps all nurses benefit from the learning that a reported event can generate.”

The highly tuned ability that nurses have in assessing a situation and evaluating the needs in the current moment can also help reveal problems, even problems that were never there before. “It can also bring mistakes and near misses to light, avoiding unnecessary injury to patients,” says Wire. “They must know that safety is not a condition or a statistic. Patient safety is an ongoing set of activities, and a state of mind focused on recognizing risk and generating improvement. It doesn’t care what you did last week.”

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Julia Quinn-Szcesuil
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