Patient Safety Programs Ineffective, Most Nurses Say @Medici_Manager

Alexandra Wilson Pecci, for HealthLeaders Media, March 12, 2013 http://bit.ly/YmI0jC

Nurses see themselves as the gate-keepers of patient safety, but many believe that the culture inside their hospitals actually keeps them from achieving patient safety goals.

They say poor communication, ineffective programs, and punitive environments are hampering patient safety efforts.

Those are some of the findings from a survey of 900 practicing registered nurses by the ANA and GE Healthcare. The survey, which queried 500 nurses in the United States, 200 in the United Kingdom, and 200 in China, finds that few nurses would call their hospitals “safe.”

One of the most striking findings is the apparent chasm between the existence of hospital patient safety programs and their perceived effectiveness. For example, 94% of nurses surveyed say that their hospitals have programs in place that promote patient safety, which on the surface is great news; these programs are probably something that the execs at these institutions brag about.

However, nurses—90% of whom consider themselves most responsible for patient safety, over physicians (69%) and patient safety officers (60%)—don’t seem enthusiastic about the effectiveness of their hospital’s patient safety programs.

Only 41% of nurses describe the hospital they work in as “safe.” Just over half of nurses (57%) believe that the patient safety programs in their hospital are effective.

Whether these programs exist doesn’t seem to affect nurses’ perceptions of patient safety as much as the factors that affect how the programs are actually put in to practice. For example, in theory, patient safety programs might rely on error reporting and discussing these errors as a team.

In practice, however, error reporting often doesn’t occur because nurses are afraid they’ll be penalized for making mistakes. The survey found that although 90% of nurses say it’s important to have a culture where nurses are not penalized for reporting errors or near misses, 59% agree that nurses often hold back reporting patient errors in fear of punishment. Most nurses (62%) say the same about reporting near-misses.

Another key component of patient safety is open communication between nurses and their peers (and their leaders); nurses and physicians; and hospitals and patients.

But again, nurses identify a gap between theory and practice. Despite the prevalence of patient safety programs—and the communication that those programs presumably encourage—just 37% of nurses rated their hospital as excellent at communication with the patient. Even fewer nurses (31%) say their hospital is excellent at communication between staff.

For example, 33% of nurses said that that “poor communication among nurses at handoff” is something that has increased the risk of patient safety incidences in their hospital in the past 12 months, and 31% said “poor communication with doctors” has also increased the risk of patient safety incidents.

Another area where nurses crave more communication is technology. The survey finds that 74% of nurses say that technology/software patient safety initiatives exist in their hospitals. Although 59% of nurses say that patient safety data is collected and reported, they also say that there’s no follow-up or feedback given to the nurses.

Taken as a whole, these results seem to indicate that nurse leaders need to make a greater effort to really engage bedside nurses in patient safety initiatives, from development to implementation. Nurse leaders and executives should remember what Carolyn C. Scott, RN, M.Ed, MHA, vice president of performance improvement/quality for the Premier Healthcare Alliance, told me recently:

“There’re some incredibly creative and innovative bedside nurses in each and every organization. I’m always amazed at the ideas and the strategies that they’re even able to bring forward themselves; how to make something better.”


Alexandra Wilson Pecci is a managing editor for HealthLeaders Media.

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