To prepare for the next pandemic, hardwire safety into our way of working

"Pandemic fatigue” is creeping into many aspects of life, including health care. How can organizations keep patient safety at the forefront of their work, especially given uncertainty about the trajectory of the pandemic?

Mc Gaffigan

Patricia McGaffigan, R.N., M.S., CPPS

Patricia McGaffigan is Vice President at the Institute for Healthcare Improvement and President of the Certification Board for Professionals in Patient Safety in Boston.

Our experience with COVID-19 has reinforced the importance of habitual excellence in safety. It's not something we can pause, not something we can afford to say, "Well, we'll skip that today." More than ever before, safety needs to be hardwired into our way of working. We must commit in both spirit and action to the safety of patients, families and the workforce as the essential foundation of health care; it’s why we come to work every day.

Organizations that may be wondering, “How do we do that?” can turn to Safer Together: A National Action Plan to Advance Patient Safety for recommendations, an organizational assessment tool, and an implementation resource guide for the four foundational areas that are essential for transforming safety: culture, leadership and governance; patient and family engagement; workforce safety; and learning systems. No matter what challenges we face in the future, beyond this pandemic, hardwiring safety now is the best way to address setbacks and opportunities to advance safety.

Part of that preparation is for organizations to focus on learning from this experience and applying those lessons forward. Data from safety metrics will contribute to that effort, but I think we need to use this moment to re-evaluate the way we design and use safety measures as part of our learning systems. Are we using data to make a real difference, and are we prioritizing the best measures to advance patient and workforce safety outcomes? Is our data stratified so we can meaningfully identify and address inequities? If we’re not actively learning and improving, we may be creating systems where safety is viewed as “one more thing we must do” instead of “the way we do things around here” to operate as highly effective improvement organizations.

And last, I encourage us to recommit to the meaningful inclusion of patients and families in the coproduction of safe, high-quality care. The pandemic badly disrupted patient and family presence and participation in care. My hope is that we’ll more fully and equitably engage patients and family members as partners not only in their care, but in the redesign of systems that promote health and optimize health care and caring for all. We can’t afford to miss the daily opportunities where patients and families, regardless of the setting, are full partners in charting the course to safety.


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