With COVID-19 making a rapid advance across the globe, this week’s recognition of Patient Safety Awareness Week draws attention to a critical subject.

Sponsored by the Institute for Healthcare Improvement (IHI), nurses can use the week to learn new standards and practices, especially in light of COVID-19, and can also educate patients and their caregivers on how to protect themselves across the healthcare spectrum.

Although patients and the healthcare workforce expect and strive to keep adverse health incidents to a minimum, negative events do happen. According to the World Health Organization, patient safety is a “serious global health concern.” The organization reports that the “risk of patient death occurring due to a preventable medical accident, while receiving health care, is estimated to be 1 in 300.”

The numbers are especially alarming when patients and healthcare workers realize those numbers are attributed to preventable events and mistakes. As a nurse, you know lives depend on you paying attention to everything you do. Your patients and colleagues depend on your high-quality care and top-notch performance every single day you’re at work. With those kinds of standards, nurses know patient safety is a top priority.

Patient safety has a clear spillover impact into other areas of healthcare—workplace safety in particular. When patient safety is compromised, nurses’ safety is compromised. And it doesn’t take much to create unsafe situations.

Think of these examples:

  • Moving a patient without proper equipment or sufficient staff. As a result, the patient is exposed to a risk of falling and the nurse is now more likely to have a physical injury from trying to move the patient in unsafe circumstances.
  • Sharps or equipment being improperly stored or disposed of exposes patients and nurses to disease and injury
  • Medication errors because there is no established process for reducing error
  • Infections due to lack of proper hygiene

As a nurse, you can take steps every day to ensure and promote patient safety.

  • If you notice a process that could become or already is creating a safety concern, address it with your supervisor.
  • Make sure your attention to safety never wavers and notice when you feel distracted.
  • Ask for continual professional development opportunities around patient safety.
  • Propose a process or standard plan around high-risk activities so that it becomes a standard care plan in your organization.
  • Take care of yourself by getting enough sleep, staying hydrated, eating nutritious foods, and managing your stress.
  • Practice immaculate personal hygiene and encourage it in your colleagues and in your patients and their caregivers. Thorough hand washing protects everyone.
  • Lobby for patient and healthcare worker safety in local and national government and in organizations. Even a simple letter to a representative or supporting a professional organization that works for these issues can help.

Becoming an advocate for patient safety is part of any nurse’s focus. In your daily work, spread the word and educate anyone who will listen. Talk about patient safety to peers, colleagues, patients, family members, and other caregivers. Raising awareness with simple and continual discussion can make a significant impact—in the lives of your patients and in your own life.

For your own way to mark this week, join the IHI’s free webinar Principles for Improving Patient Safety Measurement, on
March 10,  12:00 PM  – 1:00 PM ET. Registration is required.

Julia Quinn-Szcesuil
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