Patient Safety: Care of the Patient Requires Care of the Providers

What does patient safety mean to you? I was recently asked this question in advance of speaking at an upcoming National Patient Safety Foundation Conference. Below is my answer. I’d be happy to hear from others your answers to the question.

I believe patients get the safest care when 

  1. The patient is known as an individual
  2. The health care team gives the patient their undivided attention 
  3. The team is well-supported with efficient workflows and organized, easily accessible information. 
  4. The health professionals find joy in their work.

By being “known” I mean, that the nurses and physicians know the patient as a real person, what their life is like, who are their supports, what are their goals. Inherent in being “known” is continuity--the same medical assistants, nurses and physicians work with the patient at each visit and between visits. Relationship-centered care. 

By “undivided attention” I mean that the physicians and other providers can listen intently to the patient and think deeply, without being distracted by multi-tasking, and without being diverted by clerical tasks such as data gathering and data entry.

By “organized, accessible information” I mean an EHR that reduces the cognitive workload of information management; checklists that make it easy to do the right thing; and the supportive use of clinical metrics to empower front line workers to improve care.

I learned this guiding principles from Borgess Health in Michigan: “We will know who you are and we will be ready for you.” This is a powerful promise to patients; delivering on this promise requires knowing the patient, providing undivided attention, and being well-supported by efficient workflows.

And finally, and most importantly,  I believe the best way to achieve a safe and satisfying experience for patients is to create an environment that is safe and satisfying for the workers, an environment that nurtures the intrinsic professionalism of the physicians and other staff—where the health care team can experience joy in practice. In sum, I believe that achieving the triple aim is dependent on the quadruple aim; that care of the patient requires care of the providers. 

I believe that most health professionals come to work each day to serve their patients, to make a difference in their patients’ lives. If the environment helps people meet these professional goals, by making information easily accessible, by limiting the distracting burdens of regulatory compliance, by fostering relationships, then I believe the members of the healthcare team will give the patients their all, and the results will be safer, more satisfying care.