Patient Safety Programs Ineffective, Most Nurses Say

Alexandra Wilson Pecci, March 12, 2013

Nurses see themselves as the gate-keepers of patient safety, but many believe that the culture inside their hospitals actually keeps them from achieving patient safety goals.

They say poor communication, ineffective programs, and punitive environments are hampering patient safety efforts.

Those are some of the findings from a survey of 900 practicing registered nurses by the ANA and GE Healthcare. The survey, which queried 500 nurses in the United States, 200 in the United Kingdom, and 200 in China, finds that few nurses would call their hospitals "safe."

One of the most striking findings is the apparent chasm between the existence of hospital patient safety programs and their perceived effectiveness. For example, 94% of nurses surveyed say that their hospitals have programs in place that promote patient safety, which on the surface is great news; these programs are probably something that the execs at these institutions brag about.

However, nurses—90% of whom consider themselves most responsible for patient safety, over physicians (69%) and patient safety officers (60%)—don't seem enthusiastic about the effectiveness of their hospital's patient safety programs.

Only 41% of nurses describe the hospital they work in as "safe." Just over half of nurses (57%) believe that the patient safety programs in their hospital are effective.

Whether these programs exist doesn't seem to affect nurses' perceptions of patient safety as much as the factors that affect how the programs are actually put in to practice. For example, in theory, patient safety programs might rely on error reporting and discussing these errors as a team.

In practice, however, error reporting often doesn't occur because nurses are afraid they'll be penalized for making mistakes. The survey found that although 90% of nurses say it's important to have a culture where nurses are not penalized for reporting errors or near misses, 59% agree that nurses often hold back reporting patient errors in fear of punishment. Most nurses (62%) say the same about reporting near-misses.

Alexandra Wilson Pecci

Alexandra Wilson Pecci is an editor for HealthLeaders Media.

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