Prioritizing Patient Safety in Nursing

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Focusing on patient safety in nursing is crucial because it can help reduce medical errors and protect patients. A nurse’s role in patient safety includes promoting clear communication and collaboration among coworkers, engaging patients in their care and staying current on regulatory guidance.

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Nurses have many responsibilities, but one is more important than all others: patient safety. As a nurse, you must act with your patients’ best interests in mind, prioritizing their health and safety above all else. The nursing philosophy of acting in a patient’s best interests to preserve their health and safety should guide every clinical decision you make.

Putting patients first might sound simple, but the issue of patient safety in nursing can sometimes be complex, requiring attention to a range of evidence-based best practices. What is patient safety, exactly? Here, we’ll take a closer look and explore some ways you can promote safety in nursing.

What Is Patient Safety?

To promote patient safety, nurses must first understand how this concept is defined in the medical field. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), patient safety refers to the “absence of preventable harm to a patient and reduction of risk of unnecessary harm associated with healthcare to an acceptable minimum.”

In other words, nurses and other healthcare professionals are charged with doing all they can to reduce the risk of preventable medical errors, which can range from medication errors, misdiagnosis, pressure ulcers, unsafe transfusion practices, birth injuries and similar issues.

However, patient safety is more than just a concept or an ideal. The WHO notes that promoting safety in the healthcare environment requires adhering to an established framework to create healthcare culture, procedures, processes, technologies and activities — all designed to reduce the risk of harm to patients.

Curious about becoming an RN? Find out what a day in the life of a nurse looks like.

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Why Is Patient Safety Important?

Doing everything you can to reduce the risk of medical errors is crucial for several reasons. First, the purpose of the healthcare field is to improve the health of patients and communities, and reducing the risk of harm is aligned with that mission. Nurses have a duty to their patients to “do no harm” and to always act in their patients’ best interests.

Furthermore, safety in nursing promotes favorable patient outcomes, mitigates healthcare costs and improves the efficiency of health systems. Some individuals and communities may have difficulty trusting healthcare providers and the health system; promoting patient safety can help restore their trust in providers and health systems.

A Nurse’s Role in Patient Safety

Individual nurses can play a significant role in protecting and promoting the health and safety of patients. A nurse’s role in patient safety includes contributing to a patient-centered healthcare culture in which staff members closely adhere to safety protocols and procedures. It also encompasses open communication and collaboration to eliminate potential misunderstandings and mistakes and foster a safe healthcare environment.

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How Workplace Conditions Impact Patient Safety in Nursing

The work environment plays a significant role in patient safety. For example, if a hospital is significantly understaffed, nurses must care for more patients each shift. Staffing shortages can lead to issues going undetected and patients not receiving proper care, such as repositioning to reduce the risk of pressure ulcers or assistance with getting to the bathroom to prevent falls.

Organizations are obligated to promote nursing patient safety by:

  • Ensuring all departments have adequate staffing
  • Ensuring that nurses receive access to the resources they need, such as medical supplies and equipment
  • Empowering nurses with professional development tools
  • Promoting proper communication among healthcare providers
  • Fostering a low-stress environment

Ways to Promote Patient Safety

Now that you understand the importance of nursing patient safety, let’s look at some ways you can promote a safe and patient-centered healthcare environment.

Stay Up to Date on Protocols and Procedures

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A commitment to lifelong learning is essential for nurses, and part of that involves staying current on all protocols and procedures. This can include organization-specific guidelines or regulatory guidelines that apply to the entire nursing field, such as those established by governmental and professional organizations like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Following all regulatory guidance and safety protocols is essential for safety in nursing.

Prioritize Communication and Collaboration

Many medical errors could be prevented with proper communication and collaboration — not just among nursing staff members but also between nurses and other healthcare providers. Clear communication can eliminate misunderstandings. In other words, if you’re unsure whether you heard a directive correctly, ask for clarification. Clear communication is critical during shift changes when nurses hand off care of their patients to the next shift.

Follow Checklists for Basic Care and Safety

It becomes second nature if you follow the same procedures and provide the same primary care to patients every time, and you are less likely to neglect something important. One tool that can support your efforts is patient safety checklists. Even if your healthcare organization doesn’t require or suggest that nurses follow these checklists, doing so on your own initiative (and encouraging your coworkers to follow suit) can help reduce the risk of medical errors.

Encourage Patient Engagement

Patients know their bodies best, and engaging patients in their own care processes can help prevent medical errors. For example, before administering a medication, verify the name of the medication with the patient. If the patient is unfamiliar with the medication, double-check the health records to guarantee that the drug is the right one and in the correct dosage. In addition, make sure your patients understand that they have the right to ask questions about their care at any time.

Adhere to Infection Control Procedures

Infection control procedures are crucial, as hospital-acquired infections (HAI) are too common. (About one in 31 inpatients has an HAI on an average day in the U.S.) Ensure you wash your hands between patients, cough into an elbow, wear a mask whenever needed, remove Foley catheters as soon as possible and follow other infection control protocols.

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Always Follow Evidence-Based Practices

Occasionally, patients may ask for treatments that are not backed by science and could be harmful. Sometimes, even healthcare providers fall victim to over-hyped “miracle cures” lacking scientific basis.

For example, during the COVID-19 pandemic, ivermectin was touted as a miracle cure for COVID-19 despite insufficient scientific evidence and the significant potential for harm. It’s critically essential for nurses to defer to and follow evidence-based practices. Otherwise, they run the risk of harming their patients.

Ensure Proper Patient and Family Caregiver Education

Another vital way to promote patient safety in nursing is by emphasizing patient and family caregiver education. This can empower patients to make healthcare decisions, encourage them to be proactive in their care and prepare them to make a healthy transition back home or to a long-term care facility. Education can also reduce the risk of hospital readmission by helping patients understand how to take care of surgical wounds to prevent infection after discharge.

Before discharging any patient, ensure they understand who to call if any pharmaceutical questions arise or side effects develop.

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Don’t Neglect Self-Care

Concerning patient safety, much of the focus is on what nurses do for their patients. However, it’s also essential for nurses to take care of themselves. An exhausted, sleep-deprived and stressed-out nurse who skipped their lunch break and is running on fumes is far more likely to make a medical error. Do what you can to manage your stress levels, nourish yourself properly and get plenty of sleep and exercise.

Ready to Support Nursing Excellence?

At the University of St. Thomas, our Accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing (ABSN) program emphasizes teaching future nurses how to prioritize nursing patient safety. In addition to your coursework, you’ll develop sharp clinical skills during nursing skills labs and work through realistic patient care scenarios in nursing simulation labs. You’ll tie it all together with multiple clinical rotations at nearby healthcare facilities.

When you’re ready to pursue a meaningful career in nursing, the admissions counselors at UST are here to help. Contact us today to learn how you could graduate in as few as 12 months with a BSN.