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Patient Safety

Patient Safety Is in the Spotlight During the COVID-19 Pandemic

The Patient Safety Movement Foundation is striving to reduce the number of preventable deaths to zero by 2030. And Donna Prosser, chief clinical officer of the nonprofit, said there’s only one way they can get there, if organizations like theirs work in tandem with healthcare workers and patients themselves.

“We recognize that we have to be aligned, and we have to collaborate because none of us can fix this problem alone — but we can fix this problem together,” Prosser said.

Forewarned is forearmed

Prosser thinks about patient safety as the “absence of preventable harm and death.” 

“There are always accidents that happen that can’t be foreseen,” she acknowledged. “That’s not really what our focus is. What we want to do is look at healthcare the same way that we look at those highly reliable industries like nuclear power or aviation, the way they look at safety, and be anticipating problems before they occur so that they can be prevented in the first place.”

Keeping the pros healthy

The top patient safety concerns are healthcare-acquired infections, medication errors, and surgical safety, she explained. During the COVID-19 pandemic, health worker safety has emerged as another key area.

“We can’t have patient safety without health workers’ safety,” Prosser emphasized. 

To enable health workers’ safety, they must have adequate PPE, resources for managing burnout and stress, and environmental safety. “Patients are not going to get great care if our clinicians are not in tip-top shape and able to provide that for them in the first place,” she added.

Furthermore, communication among healthcare teams, especially when many patients have multiple providers, is critical for patient safety, Prosser said. “Without one person there to oversee the coordination of all of that care, it’s easy to see how things can fall through the cracks and patient safety issues can occur,” she explained. “So, I would say those are the two leading causes to preventable death, the lack of communication and lack of coordination of care.”

A surprising upside

A silver lining of the pandemic is it has put patient safety in the spotlight, Prosser said. Patient Safety Movement conducted a poll of U.S. residents in April 2020, shortly after the pandemic began in the United States, and found that 91 percent of respondents reported hearing nothing about patient safety issues in their area, which Prosser said was “eye-opening” for the organization.

“[This data] probably has changed since April throughout the course of this pandemic, but we’re going to measure that on an annual basis now,” Prosser said. “Because we want to be able to see how much the general public continues to talk about patient safety and make it front and center.”

She added that the foundation has various resources available to learn more about promoting patient safety, and she re-emphasized the need for patients to be part of this mission.

“We’re not going to improve care coordination without patients joining us in this effort,” Prosser said. “Patients need to be at the center of their care. They need to be an equal member of the care team.”

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