Why is it important to engage patients and families around safety in the health care setting?

Patients and their designated family or health care support person have unique and valuable perspectives that can inform and improve patient safety in any health care setting. A patient advocate shared these words when presenting to a health system board: “the patient has the ultimate interest in patient safety because of the risk of harm or death for themselves or their loved ones.” These words reminded me that our obligation to prevent medical errors, to communicate effectively as a health care team, and to learn from errors can and must include the very individuals who have the most at stake — patients and their families. By including patients as full and authentic partners in identifying strategies to avoid adverse events and opportunities for improvement when harm does occur, we will have a more complete picture of what it takes to create a culture of safety in health care.

Please describe some of the strategies you have seen used by organizations who have been successful in engaging patients and families around patient safety.

Organizations that are authentic leaders in engaging patients and families in harm prevention and patient safety improvements are intentional and systematic in their efforts. The HRET publication “Partnering to Improve Quality and Safety: A Framework for Working With Patient and Family Advisors," provides specific examples of how patients can be actively engaged in advisory councils, hospital safety committees, process improvement teams, and root cause analysis. Other successful organizations have designated leaders who guide patient engagement efforts and educate staff to help them be effective partners with patients. By empowering patients to be “at the table” at all levels of the organization and across all settings, an organization can realize the benefits of patients and families as safety champions.

The rest of the interview can be found on the AONE's website.