What is patient safety?

Patient safety refers to the work done to prevent errors that could result in harm to patients in health care. But what factors can lead to patient harm, and are there tools that we can use to strengthen patient safety?

“I will do no harm”. This is perhaps the most famous line from the Hippocratic oath taken by many physicians. While this oath resonates with the universal belief that no one should be harmed in health care, the reality is often different.

Every year, avoidable patient harm occurs in healthcare settings, making the question "What is patient safety?" highly relevant.

How is patient safety defined?

Patient safety refers to the work done to prevent, reduce, and report errors that could result in harm to patients in health care. 

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), around 10% of patients are harmed in health care every year, with 3 million deaths occurring annually due to unsafe care. Shockingly, over 50% of this harm is preventable.

The repercussions of patient harm extend beyond the individual. It's estimated that patient harm reduces global economic growth by 0.7% annually, with indirect costs amounting to trillions of US dollars. 

Investing in reducing patient harm, and thereby strengthening patient safety, not only leads to significant financial savings but, most importantly, better and safer care for patients. 

Sources of patient harm

Some of the most common sources leading to patient harm include: 

  • Medication errors: Affect 1 out of every 30 patients and half of the avoidable harm in health care is related to medications.
  • Surgical errors: Over 300 million surgical procedures are performed each year worldwide with most of the resultant adverse events occurring pre- and post-surgery.
  • Diagnostic errors: These occur in 5-20% of physician–patient encounters and most people will suffer a diagnostic error in their lifetime.
  • Patient misidentification: This can lead to catastrophic adverse effects, such as wrong-site surgery.

Source: WHO

Factors leading to patient harm

Patient harm can be the result of various things, like:

  • System and organizational factors (for example inadequate staffing or resource constraints)
  • Technological factors (for example problems with electronic health records or misuse of technology)
  • Human factors and behavior (for example communication breakdown among healthcare workers, and with patients and their families)
  • Patient-related factors (for example limited health literacy, lack of engagement and non-adherence to treatment)
  • External factors (for example absence of policies, inconsistent regulations, economic and financial pressures)

Source: WHO

However, innovative tools like Care to Translate can make a significant difference in mitigating these risks.

The importance of communication to patient safety

Clear and accurate communication in health care is essential to prevent severe consequences, such as patients not taking prescribed medication or failing to seek necessary care. 

Effective communication can also help in early detection of side effects and treatment deviations, minimizing the risk of harm. Patients should understand what is happening and what the treatment plan is, to be able to recognize and report any deviations.

How can we improve patient safety?

Empowering patients to be active participants in their own care can lead to improvements in safety, patient satisfaction, and health outcomes. World Patient Safety Day, an event organized by WHO, emphasized the importance of engaging patients for patient safety.

Engagement can, for example, come in the form of accessibility to translation in order for the patient to better understand procedures, medication, what is required of them and what the healthcare professionals need from them.

What can you do?

  • Acknowledge the problem: Recognize the issues surrounding patient safety.
  • Engage decision makers: Advocate for patient safety with decision-makers at your workplace.
  • Utilize innovative tools: Consider using tools like our app to enhance communication and reduce errors.
  • Encourage others: Get others on board by promoting the use of our app.

By understanding and addressing the factors contributing to patient harm, we can make significant strides in improving patient safety. It's not only a matter of ethical responsibility but also an economic imperative and a fundamental aspect of quality health care.

Learn more

To learn about our medical translation app, how it works to strengthen patient safety and how it can be tailored to your organization, read more here or contact us today.