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How Much Should Hospital Trustees Know About Patient Safety?

Analysis  |  By Tinker Ready  
   May 04, 2017

They think they know a lot, research shows. But patient safety professionals are not as confident in trustee knowledge.

Hospital trustees are not usually chosen for their expertise in patient safety and quality of care. They are traditionally bankers, venture capitalists, drug company executives, real estate developers and manufacturers—what used to be called "captains of industry."

How much they know about patient safety and quality of care is not central to their joining a hospital board and has not been well quantified.

Now comes a study entitled "Closing the Gap and Raising the Bar: Assessing Board Competency in Quality and Safety." Published by The Joint Commission Journal on Quality and Patient Safety, it builds on previous research by asking hospital trustees how much they know about quality of care.

"Safety and quality leaders" (SQLs) were then asked for their impressions of trustees' knowledge and involvement with quality issues.

Researchers found hospital quality staff and trustees differ in their perceptions of how much board members understand and act on quality issues:

  • About 45 % of the SQLs said board members have a good understanding of teamwork, which is an important element of quality efforts. 
  • About 77% or board members report that they understand the role of teamwork.


  • 85% of board members checked off "All the time" to a question on how often patient safety events that caused harm are reviewed at the board's quality committee meeting.
  • 40% of SQLs believe those cases are reviewed "All the time" at the meetings. 

The gaps were smaller on other questions and the study does not suggest that executives and board members are not doing their jobs, says Patricia McGaffigan, RN, the study's lead author. She cautions that the study's size and methods make it difficult to generalize about the results.

Tinker Ready is a contributing writer at HealthLeaders Media.

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