What we can do to keep our clinicians and patients safe

As a nurse, the safety of the patients I cared for was always my top priority. However, despite years of effort to eliminate preventable harm to patients, medical errors are one of the top 10 causes of death and disability in the world (cite WHO Resolution WHA72.6). This isn’t just a problem in hospitals, 4 out of 10 patients are unintentionally harmed by medical errors in primary and ambulatory settings.1  

To raise awareness of the importance of patient safety, the World Health Organization established World Patient Safety Day. This day was first recognised in 2019 to increase engagement, improve global understanding and encourage global solidarity and action to promote patient safety. Today we celebrate the 2nd World Patient Safety Day. This year, amid a global pandemic, we think there is no more fitting a theme, “Health Worker Safety: A Priority for Patient Safety.”

Leaders in healthcare play a crucial role in patient safety, specifically dedicating their efforts to the safety of healthcare workers. Here are a few things administrators, leaders and others can do to help improve the safety of health workers.    

  • Create an open, equitable and transparent safety culture for health workers which allows the reporting of safety incidents. The Joint Commission’s Sentinel Event Database indicates that a failure to create an optimal effective safety culture is a contributing factor to many types of adverse events. We must ensure health workers feel empowered and supported to report risks to their own safety as well as risks to our patients’ safety. In addition, every healthcare organisation should do a thorough gap analysis and implement improvement plans as needed.  

  • Ensure appropriate training and guidance in infection prevention and control. Investments in appropriate training and guidance have never been more critical. These investments keep our health workers safe and ensure they have access to the best evidence-based practices that are delivered to our patients. As leaders, we must aim to focus our investments in appropriate training and guidance are appropriately funded now and into the future.

  • Implement activities on promoting role modelling and mental health to alleviate stress in the workplace. A recent article in the Journal of American Medicine Association highlighted the numerous causes of stress experienced by health workers. To address stress, leaders were asked by their health workers to “hear me, protect me, prepare me, and support me” throughout the pandemic.

  • Recognise health workers’ dedication and hard work. Now more than ever, health workers are facing extraordinary challenges in caring for their patients. As leaders in healthcare, we must honor their dedication and hard work. The genuine expression of gratitude is a simple and powerful way to honor their commitment to their professions and their patients.

A focus on quality and patient safety goes far beyond one day. As we recognise World Patient Safety Day around the world, I encourage organisations around the world to stay committed to this important issue throughout the year.

Melinda Sawyer, DrPH, MSN, RN, CNS-BC is the Vice President for Clinical Quality and Patient Safety of UnitedHealthcare Global. She spent 20 years in nursing and quality and patient safety leadership roles at The Johns Hopkins Hospital and Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Armstrong Institute for Patient Safety and Quality.


1. https://apps.who.int/gb/ebwha/pdf_files/WHA72/A72_6-en.pdf