The pandemic has impacted health outcomes in so many ways, including routine safety practices. Already overwhelmed clinicians and staff have had to choose between providing acute patient care or maintaining safety standards by performing safety rounds and safety audits, reporting errors and completing safeguard checklists.
Our clinicians are burned out. We know it, they know it and our patients know it, too. We praise our health care providers for being resilient in the face of adversity, and for being superhuman. But the reality is, they are very much human. Human enough to be someone’s mother, someone’s nephew, someone else’s college roommate. Of course, they are also extraordinary in their accomplishments and their drive to continue providing safer care to patients throughout the midst of a pandemic and within stressed health systems even before that. But clinicians have been stretched thin for far too long, and they’re tired. They need our help.
Sometimes, our well-intentioned interventions to support clinicians do not actually relieve their burden. Implementing new systems to improve efficiency and visibility can be extremely helpful long-term, but when ill-timed in the face of an already exhausted workforce, it can be overwhelming. In a February 2022 report from the CDC and CMS, the authors suggest, “it is abundantly clear that the healthcare ecosystem cannot ask clinicians and staff to work harder, but must instead provide them with more tools and an environment built on a strong foundation of wellness and on instilling and rewarding a culture of safety.”
A culture of safety needs to be led by the health system – which means supporting our physicians and nurses by making things like event reporting as seamless and integrated as possible. It means ensuring staff are protected from harm through a strong safety culture that encourages reporting and informs policy adherence to drive continuous learning and improvement. It means reducing administrative burdens during onboarding and re-credentialing processes to streamline the path to safer care. It means creating space and investing in formal peer support programs. It means conducting root cause analysis on the most critical events and sharing information with leadership to enact change. It means implementing solutions that reduce the burden on providers.
Supporting a safer workforce is paramount to achieving a safer organization. While as an industry we cannot always predict healthcare crises like a pandemic, we can do our best to prepare our health systems for them. Our clinicians need meaningful support to prioritize their own well-being first, which often means giving them back time. We may not be able to press pause for healthcare providers, but we can provide them with tangible tools and data so they can better prioritize safety improvement efforts and have more time to focus on safer patient care, leading to a better, safer experience for all.