When it comes to patient safety, creating a culture where it can thrive is a critical step in protecting and preventing harm to patients, as well as overall quality of care. Doing so can put you on the fast track to achieving your patient safety goals. The concept of a patient safety culture within healthcare is predicated on the idea that having a safe and reliable environment where a foundation of transparency, trust, and accountability is established and maintained by staff can dramatically reduce errors and improve quality.
Over the years, there has been a lot of discussion around building a culture of safety, unfortunately, a culture of individual blame is still dominant in healthcare. This is something that has undoubtedly hindered the progress of building a culture of patient safety and just culture at many facilities. There are of course many components to safety, and isn’t a one and done type situation. Rather, creating an effective culture of patient safety requires a long-term commitment from all levels. Having said this, there also exists essential elements every culture of patient safety needs and simply can’t succeed without.
Commitment of leadership to safety
Like in all things, having the support and commitment of leadership is vital in building a culture of patient safety. Without the green light from senior leadership, it’s likely that you’ll find yourself hitting roadblocks from all levels. From governing boards to clinical leaders, these individuals should participate equally in a manner in which can be observed by employees.
What’s more, having their visible buy-in helps signal to staff that this is a top-down initiative that requires cooperation. Having this understanding will reinforce the need for change and be more actionable.
In a culture of patient safety, your frontline staff is your greatest resource to uphold culture as well as bring to light problems occurring within it. In empowering your staff, an organization should provide staff with an environment and the tools that allow them the ability to safely voice opinions and concerns. This means, organizations should employ an open door policy that welcomes feedback, and should never punish staff for speaking up. This can also be offered through anonymous feedback, with online tools or suggestion boxes places around the hospital.
Achieving any type of systematic change is no easy feat. However, like any project you might take on, it’s important to have clearly defined objectives and measurements to judge success on. As such, performing baseline measurements is a necessary component of all patient safety programs.
Although it can be argued that measuring incident rates and events can be something akin to letting skeletons out of the closet due to its demoralizing nature for staff, it is essential for determining improvements. Since, alternatively, error numbers can decline observable changes in culture and lower incident rates can be uplifting.
When it comes to rolling out new ideas, training is an important step that we simply can’t do without. Especially since in our case, there is a behavior we’d like our staff to adopt. In providing orientation and ongoing training, can help ensure that staff are aware of safety practices. What’s more, education can provide reference points for staff to recognize and anticipate the different types of adverse events that they might encounter, teach them how to prevent them if possible, and mitigate the effects if it is not.
As you build your program out, you’ll inevitably add new tools to arsenal to ensure you achieve your goals. When doing so, look for a tool that can offer a quick point of reference and support training staff on safety policies and procedures.
When building and maintaining a culture of patient safety, it’s important to reward your staff for participating in your vision. Reward systems can be built for individual or team achievements. This is a great way to encourage staff to adopt new safety practices and recognize good catch opportunities. However, it’s not enough to hand your winner a $10 gift cards to their favorite donut shop and pat them on the back. They should be recognized in front of their peers, or it can be noted formally in their records for review time, the important thing is that you make them feel good about their work. The special attention will be enough to convince their colleagues to try harder the next time there’s a contest.
Unfortunately, creating a culture of patient safety isn’t a science. Since no two hospitals are the same, what might work for one might not work for the other. That being said, these are a few of the elements that have been proven to work with other organizations. Our advice is to include them in your plan, adding or subtracting as you go. Doing so will provide you with a tailored program that your own staff can get on board with and will promote amongst new staff.
Patient safety has been a prevalent discussion topic in healthcare for decades. It is a topic that will continue to grow and evolve until we reach our collective goal of zero harm. As such, we must grow and evolve along with developments, however, in order to do so it’s important we build a strong foundation amongst our staff in order to ensure that we can adapt quickly to what may lie in the horizon.