Safety awareness is more powerful than it sounds

As some of you may know, the National Patient Safety Foundation has designated March 2 through March 8 as National Patient Safety Awareness Week. During that week, the Foundation is asking hospitals and healthcare organizations to plan activities related to patient safety, including educating patients on how to be involved with their own care and holding events to build awareness of safe practices within their own facilities.

Of course, particularly if you have a charitable mission, your organization is probably doing a fair amount to educate patients on key health issues. And healthcare leaders across the U.S. are already grappling with safety issues on a daily basis, so it's not as though they need a week to remind them to, say, promote hand-washing.

That being said, being in the media business, I can attest to the fact that awareness is a powerful thing. You all probably know about situations in which, say, your local home town's library was totally inadequate and falling apart, and nobody "noticed" (or all ignored the problem) until a newspaper went on a crusade to raise people's interest in the problem. Then, suddenly, the library gets extra funding and the construction crews come within weeks to fix the leaky roof. Getting people to pay extra attention to something can have powerful results.

Raising awareness of patient safety within your organization can have the same effect, of raising the issue from a daily repetition to something your staff can actually absorb. The Foundation suggests several activities that can have this effect, including holding a round-table discussion with staff to discuss safety concerns, announcing award programs and incentives to promote safety, and bringing in a patient or family speaker to discuss their experience with a medical error.

Any and all of these might work, or you might come up with other activities that fit your culture. The key is to take a moment in time and give people a chance to think, consider and engage--something that their fast-paced jobs may do little to allow. If your staff does that, you're likely to see some interesting and productive results. After all, it's just human nature--when people are truly aware of a problem, they simply can't help but try to solve it.- Anne

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