Patient safety is the most important topic in health care. What is patient safety? It’s ensuring harm doesn’t occur as a result of medical care.

Growing concern

We hear debates about health care costs and insurance coverage—or lack of coverage—but most concerning are headlines about the incidence and cost of medical errors. Preventable medical error is the number three killer in the United States. According to the Journal for Patient Safety, as many as 440,000 people die annually from medical errors in hospitals at a cost the Journal of Health Care Finance puts as high as $1 trillion a year.

Unfortunately, mistakes occur every day in health care settings—hospitals, nursing homes, at home, in pharmacies, at physician offices and other outpatient settings. One preventable mistake is too many, particularly if it happens to you, a friend or a loved one.

Health care organizations can prevent medical mistakes with a pervasive, palpable safety culture that drives open, honest discussions about mistakes, how mistakes can occur and, most importantly, how to prevent mistakes in the future. Those discussions should include health care staff and professionals, as well as patients and families.

The price of safety

A culture for patient safety means every person in a health care organization prioritizes patient safety in every action taken to provide care and support: housekeepers, dieticians, registration clerks, therapists, food service workers, administrators, nurses, doctors. It also means they help patients and families understand their important role in patient safety.

"Preventable medical error is the number three killer in the United States. As many as 440,000 people die annually from medical errors in hospitals."

A culture for safety encourages each person to speak up about processes or actions that have or could cause a mistake. This is where transparency comes in! “If you see something, say something” or “If you are concerned about something, say something.” Organizations with a strong safety culture welcome and encourage this information to help them be proactive in preventing errors.

Taking action

The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality suggests that patients look for health care providers that proactively assess and take action to improve their safety culture that actively seek patient and family input into their care and work collaboratively with other organizations, such as federally designated Patient Safety Organizations, which bring providers together to enhance learning and prevention of medical errors.

Safety in health care is everybody’s responsibility. It is important to speak up for safe care. We’re all depending on you.