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The Essentials of Patient Safety


Author: Charles Vincent
Professor of Clinical Safety Research
Imperial Centre for Patient Safety and Service Quality
Department of Surgery and Cancer
Imperial College of Science, Technology & Medicine
London UK

Patient safety is the foundation of good patient care. When a member of your family goes into hospital or receives other healthcare then above all you want them to be safe. There is something horrifying about being harmed, or indeed causing harm, in an environment of care and trust. I believe that safety is a touchstone and guide to the care that is given to patients. The clinician or the organisation that keeps safety to the fore in the midst of many other often competing priorities achieves something remarkable and provides the care that we would all want to receive. As you will see however there is compelling evidence that, while healthcare brings enormous benefits to us all, errors are common and patients are frequently harmed. The nature and scale of this harm is hard to comprehend. It is made up, world wide, of hundreds of thousands of individual tragedies every year in which patients are traumatised, suffer unnecessary pain, are left disabled or die. Many more people have their care interrupted or delayed by minor errors and problems; these incidents are not as serious for patients but are a massive and relentless drain on scarce healthcare resources. Understanding how to make healthcare safer is hard and actually making care safer is harder still. Healthcare is the largest industry in the world and extraordinarily diverse in terms of the activities involved and the manner of its delivery. We are faced with hugely intractable, multifaceted problems which are deeply embedded within our healthcare systems. Understanding and creating safety is a challenge equal to understanding the biological systems that medicine seeks to influence. This short introduction is taken from my book Patient Safety (2nd edition, 2010). My aim has been to make the essentials of patient safety available to everyone. The topics addressed include the evolution of patient safety; the research that underpins the area, understanding how things go wrong, and the practical action needed to reduce error and harm and, when harm does occur, to help those involved. The main book covers these topics in more depth and a number of additional topics such as measurement, safety culture, design, safety campaigns and safe organisations. If this introduction succeeds in its aims I hope you will be convinced that patient safety is critically important for both patients and healthcare staff in every setting throughout the world. Hopefully you will be inspired to immerse yourself more deeply in the subject and join the many other people working for safer healthcare. Treating patients one at a time brings obvious and immediate benefits but working to improve the safety of healthcare as a whole may ultimately benefit many more.

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