Patient Safety – An Attitude

Abdus Salam Khan, MD FACP
May, 2016

Rawalpindi – Islamabad is hosting a conference on patient safety. It is heart warming to see that the healthcare community in Pakistan is discussing this very important aspect of patient care. People will come from different parts of the world as well as from different institutions of Pakistan and talk to participants regarding patient safety. Each one will have their idea and subsequent way to achieve this goal. Let us see what it means and why it is so important.

Healthcare delivery is a very complex task and involves human life. It is not a static process but a dynamic one which means, that the conditions may change before a perceived intervention has actually been carried out. And since it involves multiple levels and disciplines of people, the chances of error as well as picking up of subtle signs of a problem makes this task very challenging.

People who work in the emergency department or in the critical areas know this more than others that a constant surveillance and communication is required to minimize errors and to improve the outcome. People who have their loved ones treated in the emergency department or in the critical areas also know that at times the situation changes faster than the attendant can grasp it even if they have been kept well informed. The blood pressure rising and falling, the patient experiencing pain or distress, some lab reported as abnormal or plenty of orders that needed to be carried out in short span or time. What seems like a total chaos to most outsiders may be a usual day for people working in these areas on a daily basis. So how people make sure that the care delivered is a safer one.

How do we define patient safety? The simplest way to define is to keep the patient safe while cared for by the healthcare professionals. This involves making sure that the complex process of delivering healthcare is to the right patient, right time and free of avoidable complications. Like any complex task, there are potentials to errors and mistakes and thus potential to harm the patient. The whole process should be designed to avoid preventable mistakes and check errors before they can produce harm. It thus causes healthcare delivery to be safe for the patients, staff and the hospital. This safety is measured through sets of indicators and is well defined after reviewing literature. Different nations define standards for safe care delivery and follow it through patient safety indicators. Joint Commission International offers a standardized way to the hospitals to follow the safety and other standards while delivering patient care. It has a good penetration in the world healthcare community and it also has a reach into Pakistan. It is a body that provide accreditation to the willing organizations and hospitals which follow their standards.

In Pakistan  where patient safety is not practiced by the healthcare community in general, it is important to build on this initiative of patient safety.  We need to create an awareness in the healthcare as well as patient community so that the care received by the patients would be safe for them. Awareness is the important first step in the long drawn pathway of patient safety. The goal would be physical, emotional, financial and ethical safety in care delivery, so that the patients feel safe in the hands of healthcare professional when they become vulnerable by sickness or disease.

By looking at the healthcare in present day, it seems that patient safety can only be achieved after changing the mindset of the people providing care. All doctors, nurses, paramedics and support staff has to look at the safety as a way of life or an attitude, rather than a task or part of their job. This way when they start living with safety mode then we can see a safer health care delivery and then we will be able to gain the trust of the patients at all levels.

I hope to see that day soon.

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