There are a few key expectations that most patients have upon entering a hospital. They expect to be treated with care and respect. They expect their healthcare staff to be competent and professional. And most of all, they expect not to be harmed over the course of their stay in the hospital.
How Can Hospital Administrators Improve Patient Safety?
Of course, some patient injuries are unavoidable. Larger hospitals can see thousands of patients coming and going every day: No matter how organized a facility is, some patients will receive injuries over the course of their care.
However, improving the overall patient experience within a hospital is often a matter of “addition by subtraction”; employing a thoughtful and nuanced safety culture that minimizes patient injury can go a very long way.
Today, we’ll be covering a few of the best methods to improve patient safety in your hospitals. After all, patients are coming to your hospital to be healed, to feel better—whether they are in your facility for a day or two months—and any injuries experienced during that process run counter to that philosophy.
Let’s get started!
1. Practice Cleanliness and Hygiene
This one may seem straightforward and is (in theory) something that all hospitals practice.
However, a closer look often reveals that room cleanliness and staff hygiene exist on a spectrum. When a hospital is well-funded, properly staffed, and competently run, cleanliness and hygiene are handled efficiently and effectively, and related infections are kept to a minimum.
Unfortunately, many hospitals and other healthcare facilities deal with endemic staffing shortages, and hospital-acquired infections (HAIs) are becoming increasingly common. As far back as 2011, 648,000 patients experienced an HAI, and that number has ballooned further in the post-COVID era.
Placing a heavier emphasis on the basics of room cleanliness and hygiene prevents complications in patient care and also shortens the patient's stay in the hospital, freeing up more beds for other patients.
2. Limit Shift Length for Staff
Staff overwork is suspected to be one of the major leading causes of patient injuries within a hospital setting. For instance, one 2016 study found the following:
“Poor wellbeing and moderate to high levels of burnout are associated, in the majority of studies reviewed, with poor patient safety outcomes such as medical errors…”
This conclusion should come as no surprise: Anyone who is overworked is more likely to make mistakes on the job. But in the hospital setting, these mistakes can be deadly. In addition, fatigued staff are more likely to ignore or neglect the aforementioned hygiene and cleanliness measures, leading to more HAIs as well.
While staffing shortages continue to plague the American healthcare system, ensuring that staff are neither burned out nor fatigued will help prevent further patient injuries and will alleviate the added pressure that those injuries place on an already overburdened system.
3. Streamline the Patient Admission and Discharge Process
Patients who are receiving immediate care upon admission to a hospital are often arriving with a lack of context for the doctors and nurses who will be providing their care.
Putting additional emphasis on a facility’s admission process allows these healthcare professionals to understand the patient’s unique wants and needs before administering care. However, many facilities treat admission as more of an afterthought, allowing new patients to fill out a simple questionnaire before being seen by the doctor or nurse.
Unfortunately, this often means doctors and nurses are going into the patient’s case blind, resulting in a greater chance of patient injury.
Likewise, the discharge process usually sees patients released with confusing or unclear instructions. To compound this issue further, patients are expected to remember these instructions, often for months afterwards. In many cases, patients are released without any sort of printed or digital care instructions.
A patient who is unable to follow post-care instructions is that much more likely to experience reinjury and require further medical care afterwards. Streamlining the discharge process can help to provide patients with clear instructions—and with something to help them remember those instructions—preventing these future injuries.
4. Employ Safety-Centered Design within the Facility
While many of the above tips have dealt with complex and intangible factors—ensuring better communication, preventing burnout, etc.—sometimes building a safer environment for patients comes down to, well, building a safer environment.
Within a hospital, nurses should be able to quickly access patient rooms and render lifesaving care when needed. Additionally, patients—particularly those who are more vulnerable to injury—should be kept clear of potential hazards.
While improving hospital operations can prevent injuries related specifically to the patient’s care, that only solves part of the problem. According to a 2019 study, falls are still the most common cause of patient injury within the hospital setting. Between 700,000 and 1 million patients are injured from falling in a hospital every year!
Assessing individual patients using the Morse Fall Risk Scale can help you determine risk for those patients.
With all that said, every healthcare facility is different: A facility geared towards elderly care will want to allocate significantly more resources towards fall prevention—potentially conducting fall risk assessments, for instance—as the patient base is much more vulnerable to this injury.
It’s Time to Improve Patient Safety
Patients come to a healthcare facility for a plethora of reasons. Some are there for a routine checkup or specialized care to alleviate chronic conditions. Others are there because of a specific injury or a sudden illness. Whatever their reason for coming to the facility, patients all have one thing in common: They are there to be cared for and healed.
When a patient is injured in the course of their health journey—and in particular when that injury is preventable—that facility has failed in its intended purpose. A patient who has come to the facility to be healed has been harmed instead.
Beyond the cost of additional time, money, and other resources that come with a patient’s injury, this is a betrayal of the patient’s trust—in both the facility and the greater healthcare system. To this end, facilities should constantly strive to prevent patient injury, building a better, safer future for their patients every year.