Health care does not lack for recognition days and weeks – from National Blood Donor Month in January to National Handwashing Awareness Week in December. These events are meant to highlight a profession, disease, or issue by raising awareness, sparking action, or celebrating specialized skills.
Given how stretched health care workers are, some may wonder if these events are worth it. Beyond allowing for some fun or diversion, do they truly have an impact?
As a program manager for patient safety at Seattle Children’s Hospital, there is one recognition event that I know is worth the effort: Patient Safety Awareness Week (March 14–20 this year). We believe safety is everyone’s job, no matter their role, and for the past several years we have made the most of the week to get everyone’s attention. Beyond doling out stickers and crafting social media posts, we have found that there are real, substantive benefits gained from the activities we present during the week that offer opportunities to reinforce our commitment to zero harm. Here are the top reasons to take part:
Showcase leadership commitment. Having senior leaders talk about the importance of committing to safety is a powerful contributor to a safety culture. Last year during Patient Safety Awareness Week, our senior leaders stood outside the main hospital entrance, beginning at 6 o’clock in the morning, to greet staff, shake their hands and thank them for their commitment to safety. This is such a simple thing, but it made people feel special and believe that, when it comes to safety, “my CEO backs me.” Seeing our leaders out there sparked conversations about safety during the week.
Reinforce safety culture, standards, and practices. We train all our new hires within 90 days on error prevention tools and associated safety behaviors. We go over our high-reliability journey, our culture, and what it means to be working toward zero harm. Education alone, however, is sometimes a weak intervention. The big challenge is how to sustain and reinforce that knowledge. Our annual Patient Safety Awareness Week activities reinforce the importance of reporting safety lapses or risks and escalating concerns. The week also represents a good opportunity to remind staff of available resources, including people to call for help or with questions.
Celebrate the wins. Patient Safety Awareness Week is a perfect time to highlight what we do well and our efforts to keep patients safe, including utilizing checklists, handoffs, having two nurses check medication and medication orders, and recognizing the “great catches” that we honor every month.
This is also when we celebrate 189 frontline clinical and nonclinical safety coaches who help ensure error prevention tools, high-reliability principles, and safety behaviors are part of our daily practice. We held a celebratory luncheon featuring a guest speaker, photo booth with props, stations to fill out personal statement flyers, and door prizes.
Last year, the patient safety department sponsored a quality and safety poster walk-through to acknowledge projects being done throughout the organization. We had 15 posters, submitted by everyone from nurses to physicians to nonclinical staff. They were available for patients and families to see to also learn about how we are continually working to improve safety.
Connect the work to patients. Storytelling is a powerful means of getting a message across. In 2019, we held two screenings of the film To Err Is Human. Before the film was shown, one of our family advisors shared her experience working with patient safety and why she felt this work is important in eliminating preventable harm. Her story reinforced why we practice the highest standards of quality and safety for our patients and families.
Recognize everyone’s role. In our organization, we live by the mantra “one team, one mission, one vision.” We believe everyone contributes to a safety culture, even if they are in a nonclinical role. Over the years, we’ve recognized that our workforce engages and responds in different ways to our safety culture. From faculty to environmental services, we strive to translate our message and reinforce that each of our roles connects to the safety of each other and most importantly for our patients, families, and staff.
Our Patient Safety Awareness Week activities highlight this. One of our poster presenters, for example, is in a nonclinical role, but she worked with a group of inpatient physicians to redesign an electronic form and the process they use to report safety risks, working through several rounds of modifications. The results showed an increase in reporting utilization.
We also partnered with our Patient and Family Resource Center to learn how to make safety messaging meaningful for families. The resource center shared a display during Patient Safety Awareness Week of what keeping their child safe looks like through their eyes. It means washing hands, speaking up, knowing whom to call while you’re in the hospital, and what you need before you go home.
Like most health care organizations, we take our values seriously and demonstrate excellence, integrity, compassion, collaboration, equity, and innovation. Observing Patient Safety Awareness Week is a powerful way to show how we focus on safety, and how our values help us do that every day.
Shanda Johnson, MA, CPPS, is Program Manager for Patient Safety at Seattle Children’s Hospital.
Learn more about how you can participate in Patient Safety Awareness Week. Download a print-ready poster, table tent, and stickers.