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Perspectives

Our Perspectives on Safety section features expert viewpoints on current themes in patient safety, including interviews and written essays published monthly. Annual Perspectives highlight vital and emerging patient safety topics.

Latest Perspectives

This collaborative piece with the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services discusses the current state of patient safety measurement, advancements in measuring patient safety, and explores future directions.

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Ellen Deutsch, MD, MS, FACS, FAAP, FSSH, CPPS is a Medical Officer in the Center for Quality Improvement and Patient Safety at the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. Dr. Deutsch is a pediatric otolaryngologist and has vast experience in simulation and resilience engineering. We spoke with her about resilient healthcare and how resilient engineering principles are applied to improve patient safety.

We spoke to Dr. Michelle Schreiber about measuring patient safety, the CMS National Quality Strategy, and the future of measurement. Michelle Schreiber, MD, is the Deputy Director of the Center for Clinical Standards and Quality and the Director of the Quality Measurement and Value-Based Incentives Group at the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.

This collaborative piece with the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services discusses the current state of patient safety measurement, advancements in measuring patient safety, and explores future directions.

Human factors engineering or ergonomics (HFE) is a scientific discipline broadly focused on interactions among humans and other elements of a system. The International Ergonomics Association defines HFE as “the scientific discipline concerned with the understanding of interactions among humans and other elements of a system, and the profession that applies theory, principles, data, and methods to design in order to optimize human well-being and overall system performance.” 1 The goal in HFE is to improve interactions between people and other elements of the work system, such as technologies, tasks, and the physical environment. This work is done by conducting a thorough analysis of the entire system in which these interactions occur; then based on this understanding, the systems can be designed to support performance and enhance safety and well-being. HFE interventions commonly focus on people, tools, technology, procedures, and processes. As a field of study, HFE originated in the 1940s in the field of aviation. Since then, it has been used to improve systems in electric power plants, manufacturing plants, and healthcare, among other fields.2 In healthcare, HFE focuses on designing systems around the end-user to improve performance, safety, and efficiency, using psychology, sociology, and other behavioral sciences to improve the experience for all who interact with other elements of the system. The data required to create improvements is collected through multiple methods, including observation, interview, focus group, survey, and review of archival data. These data provide a thorough understanding of the work system—that is, people, tasks, tools and technologies, the physical environment, and organizational conditions—of the setting in question. With an understanding of how interactions among all work system elements (including people) can go right or wrong, HFE uses human-centered design processes and methods to address problems and improve the overall work system design.

Dr. Pascale Carayon, PhD, is a professor emerita in the Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering and the founding director of the Wisconsin Institute for Healthcare Systems Engineering (WIHSE). Dr. Nicole Werner, PhD, is an associate professor in the Department of Health and Wellness Design at the Indiana University School of Public Health-Bloomington. We spoke with both of them about the role of human factors engineering has in improving healthcare delivery and its role in patient safety.

Special thanks to Freya Spielberg, MD, MPH, Founder and CEO of Urgent Wellness LLC in Washington, DC; and Jack Westfall, MD, MPH, Director of the Robert Graham Center for Policy Studies in Family Medicine and Primary Care, for their thoughtful interviews on the topic of Primary Care and Patient Safety, which helped lay the groundwork for this Perspective.

Freya Spielberg MD, MPH, is the Founder and CEO of Urgent Wellness LLC, a social enterprise dedicated to improving the health of Individuals living in low-income housing in Washington, DC. Previously, as an Associate Professor at George Washington University, and at the University of Texas Dell Medical School, and School of Public Health, she developed a curriculum in Community Oriented Quality Improvement, to train the next generation of healthcare providers how to integrate population health into primary care to achieve the quintuple aim of better health outcomes, better patient experience, better provider experience, lower health care costs, and decreased health disparities. We spoke with her about her ongoing work in low-income communities to improve access to primary care and its impact on patient safety.

Jack Westfall, MD MPH, is a retired professor from the University of Colorado School of Medicine and Former Director of the Robert Graham Center. We spoke with him about the role of primary care in the health and well-being of individuals, the hallmarks of high quality primary care and opportunities of primary care providers to enhance or promote patient safety.

Francoise A. Marvel, MD, is an assistant professor of medicine within the Division of Cardiology at Johns Hopkins Hospital, codirector of the Johns Hopkins Digital Health Innovation Lab, and the chief executive officer (CEO) and cofounder of Corrie Health. We spoke with her about the emergence of application-based tools used for healthcare and the patient safety issues surrounding the use of such tools.

The focus on patient safety in the ambulatory setting was impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic and appropriately shifting priorities to responding to the pandemic. This piece explores some of the core themes of patient safety in the ambulatory setting, including diagnostic safety and diagnostic errors. Ways to enhance patient safety in the ambulatory care setting and next steps in ambulatory care safety are addressed. 

Remle Crowe, PhD, NREMT, is the Director of Clinical and Operational Research at ESO. In her professional role, she provides strategic direction for the research mission of the organization, including oversight of a warehouse research data set of de-identified records (the ESO Data Collaborative). We spoke with her about how data is being used in the prehospital setting to improve patient safety.

Michael L. Millenson is the President of Health Quality Advisors LLC, author of the critically acclaimed book Demanding Medical Excellence: Doctors and Accountability in the Information Age, and an adjunct associate professor of medicine at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine. He serves on the Board of Directors for Project Patient Care, and earlier in his career he was a healthcare reporter for the Chicago Tribune, where he was nominated three times for a Pulitzer Prize. We spoke with him about how patient safety efforts are shaped by the media and how the role of media has changed since our original discussion on the role of media in patient safety (published in October of 2009 (https://psnet.ahrq.gov/perspective/conversation-charles-ornstein; https://psnet.ahrq.gov/perspective/media-essential-if-sometimes-arbitrary-promoter-patient-safety)).

Errors in medication management and administration are major threats to patient safety. This piece explores issues with opioid and nursing-sensitive medication safety as well as medication safety in older adults. Future research directions in medication safety are also discussed.

A psychologically safe environment for healthcare teams is desirable for optimal team performance, team member well-being, and favorable patient safety outcomes. This piece explores facilitators of and barriers to psychological safety across healthcare settings. Future research directions examining psychological safety in healthcare are discussed.

Patient Safety Organizations (PSOs) are organizations dedicated to improving patient safety and healthcare quality that serve to collect and analyze data voluntarily reported by healthcare providers to promote learning. Federal confidentiality and privilege protections apply to certain information (defined as “patient safety work product”) developed when a healthcare provider works with a federally listed PSO under the Patient Safety and Quality Improvement Act of 2005 and its implementing regulation. AHRQ is responsible for the administration and enforcement of the PSO listing process. Based on their presentations at an AHRQ annual meeting, we spoke with representatives from two PSOs, Poonam Sharma, MD, MPH, the Senior Clinical Data Analyst at Atrium Health, and Rhonda Dickman, MSN, RN, CPHQ, the Director of the Tennessee Hospital Association PSO about how the unique circumstances surrounding care during the COVID-19 pandemic impacted patient safety risks in both COVID-19 and non-COVID-19 patients.