Contribute to your Hospital’s Patient Safety Initiative

This week marked the National Safety Foundation’s (NPSF) National Patient Safety Awareness Week. This annual event is designed to highlight improved patient-provider communications as a vital part of keeping patients safe and to raise awareness of patient safety activities and increase lasting partnerships among patients, providers and communities.

“Every one of us and our family members will most likely be patients at some time in a hospital,” says Dr. Catherine Garner, dean, health sciences and nursing at American Sentinel University. “The National Patient Safety Act underscores the fact that patient safety is everyone’s business as we strive to keep our health care system safe. I personally want to know that everyone on staff is committed to providing the best of care and ensuring the safety and well-being of my loved ones when they’re admitted.”

Using policies, procedures – and compassion

Since 1999 when on the Institute of Medicine (IOM) release its landmark report on medical errors, patient safety has become a national priority. As a result, health care has adopted a systems approach to errors, recognizing that because humans are fallible, the focus should be on creating a system of policies, procedures, and technologies that can be used to catch errors before they occur.

As a result, nurses now have checklists that reduce reliance on our imperfect memories. Nurses have electronic medical records and databases that improve access to information, helping to ensure a patient’s drug allergy is not overlooked or abnormal lab results. Nurses even use high tech barcode scanners at the bedside to ensure that the right patient is getting the right dose of the right drug at the right time. Perhaps one of the best tools a nurse could have is an online nursing degree – BSN or MSN – so they are knowledgeable about the latest practices.

From a nursing perspective, patient safety is not just about matching barcodes or using technology to prevent medical mishaps. One of the most basic functions of nursing is daily patient surveillance – that fundamental practice of monitoring and assessing a patient’s condition, and acting on any symptoms that develop, that is crucial to patient safety and well-being.

Nurses should put their knowledge to work

As a nurse, you are a knowledge worker. Nurses use their knowledge every day to recognize conditions that might cause a complication or breakdown in care and to select an appropriate intervention – and they do this not only by following established safety protocols, but by looking at patients in a very human way, to assess and define their condition from a holistic perspective.

Nursing assessments allow nurses to play an advocacy role for the patients in their care, keeping them safe during their encounters with the health care system. In a hospital setting, these assessments might include:

  • Mobility and balance. Inability to move independently might put a patient at risk for a fall or for pressure ulcers. (In some cases it can also lead to deep vein thrombosis.)
  • Level of awareness. A patient who is heavily sedated, unconscious, suffering from dementia, or in an impaired cognitive state for any other reason may not be able to clearly communicate about their condition or any worsening symptoms.
  • Mental and emotional state. Anxiety regarding treatments, depression, and short-term memory problems can all have an impact on a patient’s ability to navigate the health care system.
  • Vital signs. A change in respiration, pulse, or blood pressure may call for an immediate intervention.
  • Pain. This is particularly important in post-surgical patients.

During a health crisis, patients are vulnerable. Every time a nurse has an encounter with a patient, they have an opportunity to serve as a patient advocate. This is especially true when the assessments listed above indicate that a patient is unable to advocate for himself. Many nurses don’t give this advocacy role very much thought, believing it to be part of their job to look out for the patient’s wellbeing. Yet effective advocacy is an important leadership skill.

Nurses can also advocate for their patient’s safety by following all protocols and reminding others to do so as well – whether it’s washing your hands, double-checking the patient’s blood type before a transfusion, or ensuring that minimum staffing ratios are being met. Most importantly, nurses must not let their place in the health care hierarchy keep them from practicing effective communication.

“Every hospital is focused on quality and safety and it is important for nurses to find out who is coordinating these efforts and ask how you can get involved,” says Dr. Garner.

Dr. Garner encourages nurses to always speak up when they notice something that doesn’t seem quite right, because doctors and pharmacists are human and can make errors as well.

To learn more about the about the National Patient Safety Foundation and how you can get involved, please visit

Learn more about American Sentinel University’s online MSN, nursing management and organizational leadership specialization or RN to BSN, which are mapped to the Quality and Safety Education for Nurses (QSEN) Guidelines.