Zelmer: We have to talk about patient safety

New Canadian data shows that one in 17 people admitted to a hospital in 2022-2023 suffered unintentional harm during their stay.

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When someone says “we need to talk,” it is rarely a good sign. Well, we have to talk about patient safety.

Patient safety trends have moved in the wrong direction in recent years in Canada and elsewhere.

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When we are sick or injured, we turn to the healthcare system for help. Most receive safe care, but that is not true for everyone. For example, new data from the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI) show that one in every 17 people enters hospitalized in 2022-2023 suffered unintentional harm during his stay. They experienced problems with medications, post-surgical infections, pressure injuries, falls or other problems.

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Patient safety has always been important, but the COVID-19 pandemic exposed and exacerbated safety gaps in healthcare.

Last year it was the third consecutive year with a potentially avoidable harm rate close to six per cent in Canada. tThis is an increase from the rates of 5.3 and 5.4 percent in the six years before the start of the pandemic. Conditions of care and working conditions go hand in hand.

Patient safety and the physical and psychological safety of people working in healthcare are deeply intertwined. The pandemic added incredible pressure on people providing care. At the same time, as the CIHI data show Rates of potentially avoidable harm to patients increased, there were greater staff absences, more overtime, and greater use of agency staff to fill gaps.

We need to talk about these harsh realities. And as we move forward, talking about security is also an important part of the solution.

This is true for individual patients and families. For example, we have worked with dozens of organizations across the country to improve the safety of transitions of care, such as from hospital to home. They introduced discharge summaries designed with patients for patients, used teaching approaches between patients and healthcare providers to ensure that care plans and next treatment steps were clear, actively involved patients and their families throughout the process, and They had formal plans for post-transition follow-up. -above.

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The result? Both patients and healthcare providers report better care transition experiences and fewer patients were readmitted to the hospital.

It is also valid for healthcare teams. Regular safety conversations allow staff to work together to prevent problems before they occur.

Research shows that places with positive safety cultures tend to cause less harm to patients and higher staff satisfaction. Personal of The organizations we partnered with to implement regular safety meetings, for example, looked forward to them as opportunities to meet and proactively discuss how to make healthcare safer for everyone involved. They told us that being involved in security gives meaning to their work and gives them value on a daily basis.

We can also build positive safety cultures at the health system level.

In the past, the focus was generally on measuring and responding to past harms. But safety is not just about the absence of damage. While we still need to ask how safe care was in the past, we also need to ask if care is safe today and how it might be safer tomorrow. In doing so, we must consider all forms of harm, such as over- or under-treatment, delayed or incorrect diagnoses, and psychological harm caused by culturally unsafe care, not just physical harm.

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Everyone involved in care contributes to safety: patients, families and other caregivers, healthcare providers, and leaders. So that we can all be part of building positive safety cultures. To get started, Healthcare Excellence Canada has a free program Discussion Guide on Rethinking Patient Safety and Safety conversation resources for patients and providers.

Now is the time to talk about health security. By redoubling our efforts to promote safety with and for patients and healthcare workers, everyone benefits.

Jennifer Zelmer is President and CEO of Healthcare Excellence Canada, a non-profit charitable organization funded primarily by Health Canada, focused on improving the quality and safety of healthcare..

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