Many of the ways in which professionals, advocates and mainstream media talk about patient safety today can be counterproductive, making it hard for others who know less about this work to grasp the meaning and importance of patient safety efforts.
That’s in large part because people in all walks of life hold deep-seated, cultural beliefs about human error, doctor-patient relationships, and the impersonal nature of systems — even those designed to keep patients safer. Those beliefs create static when the topic of patient safety is raised.
New social science research released this week by FrameWorks Institute and the Betsy Lehman Center delves deeply into those cultural belief systems and proposes more productive, tested ways to talk about medical error and patient safety with members of the general public as well as front-line health care professionals.
The report, “How to Talk about Patient Safety,” outlines useful ways to “frame” discussions about safety by tightly linking causes with proposed solutions, adopting a constructive rather than crisis tone about the prevalence of medical error and using metaphors that were helpful explainers of safety principles during extensive nationwide testing.
“Too few people understand what we mean by the term ‘patient safety,’ let alone the risks of preventable medical harm or the opportunities for reducing these risks,” says Barbara Fain, Executive Director of the Betsy Lehman Center, which initiated and collaborated on the research project. “FrameWorks’ research has identified new message ‘frames’ that we all can begin to use when we talk about safety to increase awareness and broaden the base of support for investment in improvement.”