An easy way to improve patient safety: speak up about errors

Doctor examining patient

Photo credit: Getty/kazoka30

Communication problems have long been a source of medical errors, and a new study offers a simple solution for how providers can combat the issue: speak up.

Researchers, led by Ahmet Nacioglu, a Ph.D. candidate in public health at the University of Hong Kong, analyzed previously published articles to find examples of both providers and patients speaking up when safety concerns arise. Simply encouraging staff and patients to say something about their worries can lead to positive improvements, Nacioglu writes.

“Speaking up is one of the critical behaviors of patient safety,” Nacioglu wrote in the study. “Awareness of factors that ‘influencing’ and ‘enabling’ speaking up behaviors may help leaders and decision makers to improve quality and safety of healthcare in their organization.”

According to the study, The Joint Commission estimates that as many as 80 percent of serious safety lapses occur because of poor communication. Previous research has also suggested that medical error is the third-leading cause of death, making communication improvements even more important, according to the study.

The study determined several factors that influence the likelihood that a staff member will speak up if they’re concerned about a patient’s safety. Some may fear that saying anything will make them seem incompetent, according to the study, and, as FierceHealthcare has previously reported, some may fear job repercussions for speaking up or reporting errors. Patients are more likely to express their safety concerns if they feel healthcare staff is welcoming and listens to questions, according to the study.

Because a willingness to speak up can have such key benefits to patient safety, Nacioglu concludes that training and a hospital culture that encourages reporting is necessary. Better guidelines for communicating with patients in general can also be beneficial in this situation, he said in the study.

“The decision to speak up in a clinical setting is dynamic, highly context-dependent, embedded in the interaction rituals that suffuse everyday work and constrained by organizational dynamics in healthcare,” Nacioglu wrote.

- here’s the study