Patient safety is the hot topic of the day. Patient safety routinely accompanies the introduction of new technologies, medications, interventions, treatments and equipment and rightly so. Patient safety is the foundation of the medical and healthcare communities’ guiding principal “do no harm.” Patient safety is the focal point of “patient-centered care.”
And yet, thousands of patients are injured in some way every day due to errors in communication or technology. Why?
In addition to the fact that health care providers at every level are human, complete with our inherent fallibility, I believe the rush to ensure appropriate levels of safety are built into our tools, systems and processes, too often, omit the patient along the way.
Medicine’s focus on the broken part, disease or chronic condition can result in a “medicine vs. the problem” perspective often leaving the patient feeling like the second-string player on the bench forgotten by the coach.
If the more recent plethora of studies on “patient engagement” and tools to assist with same are any indication, then I am hopeful for a reduction in errors leading to patient injury. However, as I noticed just today, there is a growing market in patient engagement “technologies” and I fear the technology side of that coin may get more attention.
What about an approach that has the provider actually speaking with and listening to the patient? While this may sound simple, it is not easy to do effectively and efficiently.
First, it must start at the beginning of any clinician’s medical education and training. It must be taught, demonstrated, practiced and evaluated with the same weight given to other clinical skills. It includes learning to ask better questions and perhaps even more importantly, using “active listening” skills to extract more precise and comprehensive information from the patient.
This is important not only at the start of the provider-patient relationship, but also following post-visit or procedure instructions for self-care, medications, and follow-up reporting by the patient. The provider has the responsibility to ensure understanding so the patient becomes a contributing member of the care team.