The Healthcare Hub

Patient Safety in Hospitals: Best Practices & Strategies

Friday, March 31, 2023

Recent survey data shows that consumers are worried about the care and security in healthcare facilities. Leveraging recent findings on the topic, this article explores consumer perception of patient safety in hospitals as well as best practices and strategies for ensuring a safe care environment.

With staffing shortages, widespread adverse events, and a rise in violence, U.S. hospitals are struggling with patient safety challenges and healthcare consumers are aware of them. This could be one factor contributing to the continued trend of patients seeking care away from inpatient settings.



Table of contents

  1. Understanding patient safety in hospitals
  2. Safety challenges in hospitals
  3. Hospital safety best practices in 2023
  4. Healthcare technologies for patient safety
  5. Creating a culture of safety



Understanding Patient Safety in Hospitals

While the hospital environment at its core is intended to maintain and improve the health of patients, adverse events, medication errors, and even lack of communication among clinicians pose barriers to ensuring patient safety in the acute care setting. Efforts aimed at accurate patient identification, falls prevention and infection control underscore patient safety challenges.

Patient safety issues in hospitals have a tremendous toll on human lives and the cost of healthcare delivery. As Forbes reported, “Even before the pandemic, errors, accidents, and infections in hospitals killed an estimated 20,000 Americans a month, equivalent to the third leading cause of death in America.”


Consumer sentiment on patient safety in hospitals

Amid a backdrop of labor shortages, workplace violence and a challenging economic climate, nearly one in four patients admitted to a hospital will experience an adverse event. Consumer sentiment indicates that the public too is sensitive to these risks.

“Health care staffing shortages lead to poor patient outcomes that can include hospital-acquired infections, patient falls and increased chances of death”

Keck School of Medicine of USC,

A Public Health Crisis: Staffing Shortages in Health Care (March 2023)

A recent hospital patient safety survey commissioned by GHX Vendormate, found widespread concerns ranging from physical safety to quality of care.

  • 81% say there is a staffing issue in hospitals today, with nearly half (49%) saying they would avoid going to a hospital because of staffing shortages.
  • 70% of said hospitals need to do a better job with security, with 39% reporting they would avoid the hospital because of concerns around violence.
  • 43% of said they would avoid the hospital in fear of not getting the right quality of care, with 36% citing concerns about not being able to see the right medical staff and/or not being able to spend enough time with doctors and/or nurses.

U.S. consumers have reason to be concerned about violence in the hospital setting as well, with violent incidents skyrocketing over the past three years. In June 2022 alone, five shooting and stabbing incidents occurred in U.S. hospitals, resulting in fatalities among clinicians, staff members and patients.

💡Read more: 2022 Survey on Patient Safety Consumer Perceptions



Safety challenges in hospitals and healthcare environments

  • Each year, in the U.S., 7,000 to 9,000 people die because of medication errors.
  • Healthcare-associated infections (HAIs) affect 1 in 31 hospital patients at any one time.
  • In 2022, The Joint Commission (TJC) received 1,441 reports of sentinel events among accredited hospitals, with falls being the most common event.

There are also the behind-the-scenes threats to patient safety in hospitals of which most consumers lack awareness. For example, proper instrument reprocessing is vital to minimizing the risk of adverse events, such as surgical site infections.

Yet, only four states in the U.S. require certification of sterile processing professional. Not to mention that such professionals tend to earn far below the median hourly wage ($18.37) that hospitals pay other staff members who support surgical services such as nurses.



Hospital safety best practices in 2023

Since the publication of To Err is Human: Building a Safer Health System (2000) by the Institute of Medicine, U.S. agencies, industry associations, healthcare organizations, patient safety advocates, and many others have launched efforts aimed at improving hospital patient safety.

For example, the TJC publishes its Hospital National Patient Safety Goals (NPSG) each year based and offers guidance to U.S. hospitals (“Proposed Elements for Performance”) on how to address these issues.

Here are the top issues of 2023, including those related to patient identification, medication errors, communication, adverse events and healthcare safety culture, and the TJC’s advice for patient safety strategies around them:

  • Improve the accuracy of patient identification
  • Improve the effectiveness of communication among caregivers
  • Improve the safety of using medications
  • Reduce the likelihood of patient harm associated with the use of anticoagulant therapy
  • Maintain and communicate accurate patient medication information
  • Reduce patient harm associated with clinical alarm systems
  • Reduce the risk of health care–associated infections
  • Identify safety risks inherent in its patient population (to reduce the risk for suicide)



Healthcare technology for patient safety

Healthcare technology solutions can be leveraged to maximize existing hospital labor resources by streamlining and standardizing processes around the care of hospital patients. The automation of manual tasks can reduce the risk for human error and resulting patient safety challenges such as:

  • medication errors
  • adverse events
  • infection control failures
  • communication lapses

Here are just a few ways healthcare technology contributes to safer environments, a stronger safety culture, and increased patient safety in hospitals by addressing some of the top patient safety challenges today.

Barcode scanning to reduce medication errors

Nearly 40% of adverse events in hospitals are related to medication errors.

To help reduce the number of medication errors that occur in hospitals and other healthcare settings the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) put into place rules requiring barcodes on certain drug and biological product labels.

The use of barcode scanning in hospitals to reduce medication errors has become common practice. The Leapfrog Group, a patient safety watchdog organization, documented impressive results in reducing the risk for medication errors using bar code medication administration systems:

  • 41.1% relative reduction in non-timing errors in medication administration
  • 50.8% relative reduction in potential adverse events due to such errors
  • 80.7% in medication administration errors

Automation to support infection control

With shortages among environmental services (EVS) staff members impacting hospitals, automating sanitation of patient care areas can help bridge the gaps.

Many different healthcare technologies are available today to help hospitals automate infection prevention. One example is the development of “touchless” cleaning and disinfecting robots that use hydrogen peroxide (HP) or UV-light emitting machines as an adjunct to manual cleaning.

Hand hygiene monitoring is another area where hospitals are having success with automation. For example, Novant Health Matthews Medical Center increased hand hygiene compliance by nearly 30% with an electronic hand hygiene monitoring system.

Facility access management solutions

With consumers increasingly concerned about hospital security, some health systems have stepped up efforts to better identify who enters their doors with automated healthcare technology for credentialing and compliance.

One example is the GHX Vendormate kiosk, which can provide a single point of access with badging capabilities for both visitors and vendor representatives arriving at an acute care facility.



Creating a culture of safety

The importance of a strong safety culture correlates with not only the physical safety of patients, staff members and visitors, but also the financial viability of U.S. hospitals as they face increased competition from non-acute facilities.

With a rise in the number of urgent care centers, ambulatory surgery centers, and retail-based healthcare clinics offering a more consumer-centric approach to care, hospitals need to prove their commitment to safety to patients in their communities or risk becoming obsolete.

As with any initiative aimed at improving an organization’s culture, leadership engagement and support is critical to establishing and maintaining a safety culture to improve patient safety in hospitals.

The Institute for Healthcare Improvement (IHI) recommends senior leaders make regular WalkRounds™ “for the sole purpose of discussing safety with the staff.” The IHI notes how “communication should go two ways, with both the executives and the staff talking honestly and listening carefully.”1

The simple step of hospital leaders and staff members discussing patient safety challenges in this way could serve as a jumping off point to pursuing meaningful improvements in ensuring patient safety.



Key takeaways on patient safety in hospitals

Hospitals must address challenges related to patient safety, including patient identification, falls prevention, medication errors, adverse events, and infection control, as these issues have a significant impact on human lives and healthcare costs.

Amid the many efforts to improve patient safety, healthcare technology solutions can play an important supportive role by augmenting and streamlining manual processes during a time of staffing shortages and high labor costs.

Any efforts aimed at improving patient safety in hospitals must be implemented within the context of a hospital-wide patient safety culture. Like quality, safety shouldn’t be viewed a series of one-off acts, but rather a standard that is pervasive throughout all aspects of care delivery.


Disclaimer: The third-party contributor of this piece is solely responsible for its content and accuracy, and the views expressed do not necessarily reflect the opinion of GHX.

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Kara L. Nadeau

Healthcare Industry Contributor

Kara L. Nadeau has more than 20 years of experience as a writer for the healthcare industry, working for clients in fields including medical device/supply manufacturers and distributors; software, solution and service providers; hospitals and health systems; and industry associations.

Industry Insights: Hospital Staffing and Safety Survey 2023