Engaging patients for patient safety


The World observes ‘Patient Safety Day’ on September 17 and the theme this year is “Engaging Patients for Patient Safety”. The fundamental principle of medical practice is ‘Primum non nocere’ which means - ‘first do no harm’.

Yet in an attempt to provide preventive, curative, and rehabilitative services to a patient, there is a risk of inadvertently harming them. World Patient Safety Day is an occasion where patients, families, caregivers, doctors, nurses, healthcare workers, policy makers, are reminded of their commitment to patient safety.

Ensuring Patient Safety is of utmost importance for any health care provider and getting the patients involved in developing better and safer services is an effective strategy to reduce harm while in the process of getting cured.


According to the World Health Organisation, one in every ten patients experiences an adverse event while receiving healthcare and around 3 million deaths occur annually due to unsafe care.

Annually, there are 1.67 million Hepatitis B infections, over 3 lakh Hepatitis C infections, and 33,877 HIV infections due to unsafe injection practices, per year. Unsafe injections can also cause abscesses, septicaemia, and nerve damage.

Similarly, every year, there are 117 million blood donations. The norms ensure that the blood is screened for the common infectious diseases such as HIV, Hepatitis B, C, Malaria and Syphilis. But there is still a threat of blood transmissible infections and blood should be used judiciously.

Common adverse events that may result in avoidable harm are medication errors, unsafe surgical procedures. There are 300 million surgical procedures done every year. It is estimated that 10% of all preventable patient harm in healthcare is from a surgical setting. Maternal infections and deaths during pregnancy. Healthcare-associated infections, diagnostic errors, patient misidentification, and venous thromboembolism are some of the other threats.

Maternal care should also be prioritised. It is estimated that per day around 800 mothers die due to preventable causes during pregnancy and childbirth. If the right and timely decisions were taken by the individual, the family and the doctor, this could be prevented, and we could ensure safe delivery. Safe motherhood has been prioritised under the RMNCH+A initiative of the government.


One cannot clap in one hand. There is a need for a perfect partnership between the patient and the doctor. Here are some suggestions.

ENGAGE THE PATIENT: Patients should actively participate in shared decision-making regarding their care and be informed partners in their treatment plans. It has shown to reduce errors by 15%.

COMMUNICATE: Patients should feel comfortable asking questions, seeking clarification about their treatment, and providing their healthcare team with accurate information about their medical history. Clinics are often busy, and the doctors may not have the time to explain. The pharmacists and nurses can take on this responsibility.

MEDICATION MANAGEMENT: Patients should understand their medications, including their purpose, dosage, and potential side effects. This can help prevent medication errors.

INFECTION CONTROL: Both patients and healthcare providers should practice good hygiene, and handwashing, and follow infection control protocols to reduce the risk of healthcare-associated infections. Do not underestimate the need for washing hands while providing healthcare.

SAFETY CULTURE: Fostering a culture of safety within healthcare organisations, where staff feel comfortable reporting errors without fear of retribution.

PROMOTE BEST PRACTICES: Encourage the implementation of evidence-based best practices in healthcare settings to ensure the safety of patients. Disposal of biomedical waste, prevention of hospital-acquired infections, and the spread of resistant organisms.

REVIEW PROTOCOLS: Review and update healthcare protocols and guidelines to align with the latest recommendations and best practices. Continuous training of the health care staff on the protocols.

TECHNOLOGY: The adoption of electronic health records and other technologies can help streamline and improve patient safety processes.

REPORTING ERRORS: Encourage patients and healthcare providers to report any incidents, near misses, or errors in a non-punitive manner to facilitate learning and improvements.

HEALTH LITERACY: Efforts should be made to improve patient health literacy, ensuring that patients understand their medical conditions and treatment options.


Healthcare providers should follow the SAFETY guideline:

S- Sense the error - be sensitive to the possibility of errors during any procedure

A- Act to prevent the error

F- Follow the Standard Operating Procedures

E- Enquire into any accidents or deaths to improve practices

T- Take appropriate remedial measures/ Train everyone concerned, update the SOPs

Y- You - start from yourself, make a difference

No one should be harmed in the process of being cured. Let’s make patient safety a priority. While we prioritise patient safety, we should also think of safety of the health care professional. The patient can only be safe if the healthcare staff is safe.

[The writer is Asst Professor in the department of Preventive and Social Medicine at the Goa Medical College. He also has a degree in Tropical Medicine from the LSHTM, UK and is the secretary of the Bio Medical Waste Committee at GMC]

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