Why Is Reducing Harm — Not Just Error — Important to Patient Safety?

​David W. Bates, MD, MSc, Senior Vice President and Chief Innovation Officer, Brigham and Women’s Hospital

Have trouble viewing this video? Read the transcript.

Learning Objectives: At the end of this activity, you will be able to:
    Explain why the field of patient safety is focused on reducing harm, and not just error.
  • Discuss one definition of harm.

Description: Everyone makes mistakes. So how can health care prevent errors from harming patients? In this video, Dr. David W. Bates, Chief Innovation Officer at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, explains why health care is now working to improve patient safety by reducing harm, not just error. Dr. Bates also offers his thoughts on one definition of harm that was used in the Harvard Medical Practice Study, one of the seminal research projects on the epidemiology of medication error.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Do you agree that making errors is part of the human condition? If so, what do you think it means for improving patient safety?
  2. Central line–associated bloodstream infections (CLABSIs) are a type of harm that providers once thought to be an inevitable side effect of care, but they now consider to be preventable. Can you think of any other examples of harm in health care that is now considered preventable?
  3. Do you agree with Dr. Bates that the definition of harm from the Harvard Medical Practice Study is too narrow? Why would it be advantageous to take a broader view of harm?
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