Be a Safety Fanatic

Added on Sep 10, 2018

By Dr. James Merlino, Chief Transformation Officer

safety_first_by_gatonegro2551-d1kuljyWhen I hear people talk about patient safety and patient experience as separate entities, I remind them that the two are inseparable—that a health care experience can only be good if it is safe. Typically the response I get is, “Well, of course,” as if it goes without saying. In fact, I can think of 4.8 million reasons why it does not and should not go without saying, and 440,000 more reasons why it must be repeated often and with conviction.

In our health care system, 4.8 million Americans will suffer avoidable harm this year, and 440,000 people will die as the result of a preventable serious safety event. If avoidable harm were a disease, it would be the third leading cause of death in the United States, right after heart disease and cancer. 

These numbers are frightening, and when we think of what each one represents—a mother, father, brother, sister, daughter, son or friend who never considered the possibility that they would be harmed by the system from which they sought care—they become more real.

The fact is, most patients are not concerned about health care safety, because they assume that they will be safe. In a survey of 2,884 patients, nearly 75% of patients stated they would feel “pretty safe” or “very safe” in a hospital. And most care providers don’t anticipate causing harm. Health care workers are passionate and compassionate, and they care deeply about people. It’s typically the reason we choose health care as a field. Still, harm happens. Often. And it happens because of errors, most of which are preventable.

Further, patient safety is not our only worry. We also have to consider workforce safety. Health care workers are harmed more frequently in their jobs than workers in any other industry. In fact, according to an OSHA report, the injury and illness rate in hospitals is nearly double the rate in private industry as a whole, and it is also higher than the rates in construction and manufacturing—which are traditionally thought to be especially hazardous.

Clearly, something needs to change, and the responsibility for that change lies with all of us. Every one of us needs to become a safety fanatic by executing on four easy but critical tasks.

1) Embrace Zero Harm. There is no better way to help reduce safety errors than to immediately prioritize it as a goal, embrace it as a strategy and start talking about it.

2) Ask questions and be informed. Asking questions raises awareness about what is happening and forces people to think about what they are doing.

3) Be mindful. Whether you are a patient, family member, or caregiver, think about what you are doing and what is happening around you.

4) Speak up. If you have doubts about care, are concerned about what is happening in the environment around you or are just not sure, don’t be afraid to say something.

Being a safety fanatic does not take special training or skills. It merely requires us to have a passion for doing what is right, protecting the people we have vowed to take care of and supporting our colleagues.