Creating a “Safety Culture”


The missing ingredient needed to create safer healthcare and better patient outcomes? A “culture of safety,” says Cynthia Barnard, MBA, from Chicago’s Northwestern Memorial Hospital, who led a National Association for Healthcare Quality (NAHQ) task force on the topic of patient safety.

Patient safety – while always on the minds of caring physicians everywhere – hit the national stage in a big way nearly 15 years ago with the Institute of Medicine’s now-famous report entitled To Err Is Human. This report outlined the widespread problem of medical errors and set an ambitious goal for the U.S. to significantly lessen the number of people injured by medical errors and adverse events. In the intervening years, there has not been enough progress made in patient safety, says Barnard in an editorial in this month’s Journal for Healthcare Quality.

Patient safety has improved due to process improvements, such as electronic medical records, bar-coded medications, operating room checklists, and “smart” infusion pumps. However, the NAHQ task force concluded that the creation of a “culture of safety” is needed to bring patient safety to the next level.

NAHQ’s Four Keys to a Safety Culture

  • Foster accountability for quality and safety
  • Encourage reporting of any quality or safety concerns
  • Support accurate reporting of quality and safety data
  • Investigate and respond to adverse events, complaints, or safety concerns 

These changes will be tough to implement and culture can’t be legislated, acknowledges Barnard in her editorial, however she concludes that “the ultimate reward for action will be safer healthcare and better outcomes for patients.”


What do you think

I’d love to hear your opinion in the comments section below.

Stephen C Vogt, PharmD
President and CEO
BioPlus SP

Barnard C. Protect the integrity and quality of healthcare. J Healthcare Quality 2013;35(3):7-8.

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