When we mention “saving lives”, many people tend to think about front-line health care workers either on the field or in an operating room, whose occupations are by no means to be underestimated.
Nevertheless, behind the scenes, there are numerous elements, which contribute to delivering the best quality of care to the patient. These are, for example, team meetings, which sustain good relationships between the team members (e.g. nurses and doctors), and support a blame-free culture  in a clinic or hospital. In this way, a possible misunderstanding can be resolved transparently and timely. Both patients as well as personnel benefit from this positive atmosphere. Some other actions behind the scenes are, for example, paying attention to hand hygiene or using checklists for critical operations. For these purposes, WHO has already developed the guideline “Hand Hygiene in Health Care”  and a checklist as well as an implementation manual for surgical safety , which can also be adapted to local settings.
Clearly, in patient safety, the core point is not always necessarily human resources or high-tech devices, but rather the communication within a team or the information flow between the actors that have relevant knowledge about the patient’s health status. In addition, documentation about medical history (e.g. previous operations, current diseases) or medication intake (e.g. type and a dose of the medication) of a patient are especially crucial in practice.
However, not every patient is able to share his/her relevant medical information spontaneously and completely when needed. Such instances might include emergencies when a patient becomes unconscious and is incapable to tell the information required. This may also happen among disadvantaged groups in a population, such as among elderly people, especially who suffer from dementia, or among migrants, whose mother tongue is different from the doctor’s. At that point, an available personal database, which can support a clinical decision in an accurate and timely manner, might bring enormous advantages to patients.
Overall, as digitalisation of patient records takes more and more place in every aspect of our lives, its relevance to patient safety seems to grow as well in the coming years. Do you agree? Share your ideas!
- Culture of Safety, AHRQ: https://psnet.ahrq.gov/primers/primer/5/safety-culture
- About SAVE LIVES: Clean Your Hands: http://www.who.int/gpsc/5may/background/5moments/en/
- WHO surgical safety checklist and implementation manual: http://www.who.int/patientsafety/safesurgery/ss_checklist/en/
Tugce Schmitt is a consultant, based in Berlin. Her special interests are quality in health care and evidence-informed policymaking.