As a nurse, you rarely ever have a dull day at “the office.” But of all the tasks on your to-do list, the one that should be at the very top is ensuring the safety of your patients. In this article, we'll Here’s how you can do your part to make your workplace a safe space for everyone.
What Is "Patient Safety?"
As straightforward as it might seem, the concept of "patient safety" can mean different things to different practitioners and healthcare organizations. For this reason, we turned to the experts to see how they define it.
The World Health Organization (WHO) offers a very simple, high-level definition:
"Patient safety is the absence of preventable harm to a patient during the process of health care and reduction of risk of unnecessary harm associated with health care to an acceptable minimum. An acceptable minimum refers to the collective notions of given current knowledge, resources available and the context in which care was delivered weighed against the risk of non-treatment or other treatment."
The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services takes that definition a step further:
"The patient safety field uses the term adverse events to describe patient harm that arises as a result of medical care (rather than from the underlying disease). Important subcategories of adverse events include:
- Preventable adverse events: those due to error or failure to apply an accepted strategy for prevention;
- Ameliorable adverse events: events that, while not preventable, could have been less harmful if care had been different;
- Adverse events due to negligence: those due to care that falls below the standards expected of clinicians in the community.
Two other terms are used to describe hazards to patients that do not result in harm:
- Near miss: an unsafe situation that is indistinguishable from a preventable adverse event except for the outcome. A patient is exposed to a hazardous situation but does not experience harm (either through luck or early detection).
- Error: a broader term referring to any act of commission (doing something wrong) or omission (failing to do the right thing) that exposes patients to a potentially hazardous situation."
7 Simple Ways to Improve Patient Safety in Nursing
Now that we have a baseline definition of what patient safety is, let's cover seven simple ways that nurses can improve patient safety in their hospital or clinic.
1) Communicate clearly and effectively.
Poor communication can lead to a number of nursing mistakes — which can, in turn, put patients' safety at risk — so it’s incredibly important to be accurate, insightful, and thorough in your work. This is especially true when handing patients over to another nurse. Remember, your colleague will make care decisions based on the information you give them, whether it’s written on a chart or told to them verbally.
2) Be an active listener.
Active listening is just as important as clear communication — and it’s a technique that you should use regularly. Why? Active listening means that you’re synthesizing the information you’re receiving and identifying any gaps in your understanding so that you can ask specific follow-up questions that help you get the job done properly.
One trick to help you be an active listener (and to make this a habit with colleagues) is to give a quick summary of the information that was just relayed to you. This will confirm your understanding of their instructions, or correct any misunderstandings.
3) Know your (work) limits.
According to a 2017 survey from Kronos, Inc., 85 percent of nurses reported feeling fatigued by their work, and 63 percent said that they’re already experiencing burnout from their jobs. Understandably, burnout can often cause people to leave the nursing profession entirely, or feel trapped in a career that they no longer love. Worst of all, burnout can cause nurses to make mistakes both on and off the job.
So, what can you do to avoid this? First, make sure you know your limits when it comes to how much you can work. If you feel like you’ve hit a peak of exhaustion, make sure you take your allotted breaks so you can regroup and catch your breath. Even if your team is short-staffed, resist the urge to step in and take on more hours. Working while exhausted has the potential of doing more harm than good.
When you go home after work, try to carve out some time for yourself to relax and recharge. This doesn’t need to be anything fancy, either; it can be as simple as practicing meditation for 10 minutes or engaging in a hobby that you genuinely enjoy doing. Also, try your best to get enough sleep; there are plenty of apps out there that can help you get your sleep cycle back on track so you can wake up rested and ready for the day.
4) Keep yourself organized.
When you keep yourself and/or your workspace organized, you’re far less likely to overlook essential patient care tasks. You're also less likely to perform unnecessary jobs or redo them. Take notes after each conversation so you can follow up on concerns and tasks, and make checklists after each shift for what you need to do the next day.
5) Engage your patients and their families.
Patients and their families are invaluable sources of information. Ask your patients about their goals and assess whether these aims are in line with the care they're receiving. Listen to any concerns they may have about their treatment or medication, and follow up with them on a regular basis. When patients or family members say that drugs are unfamiliar or new to them, double-check to confirm that the medications are indeed correct.
6) Learn from your mistakes.
We’re all human and, despite our best intentions, errors and near misses will happen. Although mistakes are never ideal, they do present us with invaluable learning opportunities that can help us improve. If you do make a mistake, analyze what happened and consider what you could’ve done differently. Share with your teammates so they can also learn and improve their own practices. Creating a safe space where you can share your mistakes and learn from each other will ultimately help you all become safer nurses.
7) Don't be afraid to speak up.
Speaking up when you see something that’s potentially dangerous can be intimidating, but it's vitial if your goal is to improve patient safety. Proactively reporting any hazards or unprofessional behavior you see in your workplace can prevent serious incidents and, ultimately, help your team keep your patients safe. This includes speaking up about your own ability to perform your best at work.