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Patient Safety in Nursing

Medical errors are a medical professional’s worst nightmare. Unfortunately, they are also quite common. According to research from Johns Hopkins University, patient mortality due to medical errors was noted as the third leading cause of death in the United States within the last five years.

While improving medical errors can be a complex issue,  several reliable strategies can help significantly reduce incidence rates. For many hospitals, the road to better outcomes begins with the implementation of improved patient safety protocols. If designed and deployed effectively, these protocols empower healthcare administrators to learn from past mistakes, improve the trustworthiness of their medical staff, minimize errors, and, most importantly, reduce patient mortality rates.

What is Patient Safety in Nursing?

Understanding patient safety in nursing is the first step towards reducing the risk of medical errors. Patient safety has been defined by the Institute of Medicine simply as “the prevention of harm to patients.” Others have expanded on this definition, emphasizing the need to promote patient safety through the creation of a care delivery system that focuses on preventing errors and learning from those that occur. A robust, successful patient safety strategy will use evidence-based outcomes to constantly improve patient safety protocols and establish an enduring culture of learning and improvement.

Nurses are a crucial part of any hospital’s efforts to improve patient safety. Nurses have the most direct interaction with patients of any healthcare professional—they consistently monitor patients’ conditions, administer medication, and communicate self-care and discharge information. Because nurses are directly involved with patients on a day-to-day, often hourly level, improving their ability to provide accurate, high-quality care is paramount to the success of any holistic patient safety strategy.

But while nurses play a vital role in patient safety, they are certainly not alone. Patient safety must be viewed as a collaborative effort, one that hospital administrators, doctors, and physicians’ assistants are equally engaged in. Only when all healthcare professionals commit to reducing medical errors will meaningful, measurable improvements be made.

How do Nurses Ensure Patient Safety in the Hospital?

An effective approach for improving patient safety measures in nursing must be tailored to nurses and the unique role they play in providing bedside care. Many nurses find it helpful to break patient safety down into a set of tangible tactics geared towards minimizing medical errors and improving patient outcomes, including:

Monitoring Patients

A patient’s medical condition can change in the blink of an eye, meaning nurses must be prepared to quickly identify any complications that arise. Continuing education significantly improves nurses’ patient monitoring skills, helping them better understand the nuances of wound progression, pressure ulcers, and other bedside conditions so that they can spot complications before they become dangerous.

Access to new technology also helps nurses monitor patients more effectively. While bedside alarms are commonplace in most hospital settings, technological innovations like medicine barcode scanning and laser temperature checks continue to improve the quality of patient monitoring.

Educating Patients

Patients’ lack of compliance with their post-discharge self-care routine, including wound management, medication regimens, and occupational therapy, is a common source of preventable error in healthcare. According to a study from the Mayo Clinic, medication errors are present in approximately 50% of patients once they are discharged. More specifically, a study found that 59.2% of cardiac patients had a misunderstanding in indication, dose, or frequency of their cardiac medication.

Educating patients on their post-discharge care is a simple, yet effective, example of how nurses can improve patient safety. By working with patients to ensure they have a thorough understanding of their medical condition and self-care routine before they are discharged, nurses help facilitate a smooth recovery. If patients seem unable to recall or comprehend their outpatient care requirements, it may be necessary for nurses to ensure compliance with a family member.

Assisting Physicians

Despite their laser focus on a patient’s condition, physicians are still susceptible to human error. In the operating room and beyond, nurses serve, among many roles, as an extra pair of eyes, ready to call a timeout before the physician makes a mistake.

To help doctors avoid mistakes whenever possible, nurses must maintain a keen understanding of each patient’s existing medical record and any procedure they are receiving. This heightened awareness will empower nurses to more readily identify conflicting medications or surgical risks that could put the patient in jeopardy.

How do Nurses Promote Patient Safety?

Promoting patient safety in nursing requires the cultivation of intentional communication and collaboration—a responsibility that falls on the shoulders of leaders within the hospital’s nursing department. In a healthy workplace environment, effective nurse administrators will applaud those who strive to diligently minimize medical errors and alert others when errors have occurred, setting the tone for a respectful, transparent medical team.

On the contrary, administrators that partake in shaming their employees for making honest mistakes or calling attention to the mistakes of others will only stifle communication. Afraid to speak up, employees will sweep mistakes under the rug, directly jeopardizing patient safety. This type of fear-induced workplace culture adds a layer of stress to an already high-stress profession, further impacting a nurse’s ability to effectively care for their patients.

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