Investment is Required to Create Resilient Patient Safety Systems

By Madison Pittman

Patient safety systems must be able to withstand serious threats to patient safety.

If such systems whither when confronted with staff shortages, supply chain disruptions, or infectious diseases, they cannot be considered patient safety systems. A system that protects patients only when things are running smoothly isn’t very helpful at all. 

While this fact may seem obvious now, it took a global pandemic to expose grave deficiencies in our current healthcare practices. Moving forward, healthcare leaders cannot afford to ignore the truth highlighted by leading CDC and CMS physicians: “The fact that the pandemic degraded patient safety so quickly and severely suggests that our healthcare system lacks a sufficiently resilient safety culture and infrastructure.”

A Call to Build a Healthcare System that Ensures Resilience

According to a February 17, 2022 Perspective article published in the New England Journal of Medicine, “the pandemic must serve as a call for transformation and investment toward resilience and people centeredness, beginning with health systems.” 

It is “abundantly clear,” the authors say, “that the health care ecosystem cannot ask clinicians and staff to work harder, but must instead provide them with more tools and an environment built on a strong foundation of wellness and on instilling and rewarding a culture of safety.” 

Asking Staff to Work Harder is Not a Sustainable Solution 

Human beings do not have unlimited capacity. So, although healthcare workers are among the most dedicated people on the planet, asking or expecting remaining staffers to continually do more with less is simply unsustainable. More healthcare workers are needed, and healthcare leaders must identify and meet staff needs. 

A 2021 Nature Medicine article that analyzed health systems’ responses to the COVID-19 pandemic in 28 countries notes that, “Resilient health systems manage crises by having an adequate, trained and willing workforce.” The current workforce isn’t entirely adequate (as evidenced by continuing staff shortages) or willing (as evidenced by reports that nearly 1/3 of healthcare workers are considering leaving their positions). There is a need to invest in improving both the quantity and quality of health workers – and a need to invest resources into supporting workers’ physical, mental and economic health in the workplace, and beyond.

Millennial and Gen Z nurses are looking for improved working conditions (including staffing models that facilitate work-life balance) and long-term workforce solutions that will increase the number of available bedside nurses, according to a recent Becker’s Hospital Review article. They also need mental health support and on-the-job training.

Reliable Systems Support Staff and Patient Safety 

Investing in tools and systems that allow healthcare workers to focus their clinical skills will boost patient safety and staff satisfaction.

“We need to make healthcare more efficient because working harder isn’t an option anymore,” says Chris Hermann, PhD, CEO of Clean Hands-Safe Hands. “Nobody has time to waste doing direct observation of hand washing anymore, for instance. You need systems and technology to ensure that your clinicians are operating at their license, not just clicking buttons on a computer.”

The Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology agrees and has called for “investment in the infection prevention and control infrastructure in our nation’s healthcare facilities so the basic infection control practices can be hardwired into processes of care.” 

Healthcare-associated infections (HAIs) increased during the pandemic because infection control and patient safety practices weren’t sufficiently hardwired into care processes. Investing in an electronic hand hygiene system that verbally reminds healthcare workers to sanitize their hands before and after patient contact is a small but significant step toward building a resilient healthcare system. 

As the authors of the NEJM article note, “The health care sector owes it both to patients and its own workforce to respond now to the pandemic-induced falloff in safety by redesigning our current processes and developing new approaches that will permit the delivery of safe and equitable care across the healthcare continuum during both normal and extraordinary times.” 

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