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Perspectives on Safety > Perspective
with commentary by Alison H. Page, MS, MHA, Just Culture, October 2007
We've all been there...something goes wrong, a patient is harmed, and we, as medical directors, managers, and administrators, are forced to judge the behavioral choices of another human being. Most of the time, we conduct this complex leadership function guided by little more than vague policies, personal beliefs, and intuition. Frequently, we are frustrated by the fact that many other providers have made the same mistake or behavioral choice, with no adverse outcome to the patient, and the behavior was overlooked. Quite understandably, the staff is frustrated by what appears to be inconsistent, irrational decision-making by leadership. The "just culture" concept teaches us to shift our attention from retrospective judgment of others, focused on the severity of the outcome, to real-time evaluation of behavioral choices in a rational and organized manner.
Perspectives on Safety > Interview
Just Culture, October 2007
An engineer and an attorney by training, David Marx, JD, is president of Outcome Engineering, a risk management firm. After a career focused on safety assessment and improvement in aviation, he has spent the last decade focusing on the interface between systems engineering, human factors, and the law. In 2001, he wrote a seminal paper describing the concept of just culture, which became a focal point for efforts to reconcile notions of "no blame" and "accountability." He has gone on to form the "Just Culture Community" to address these issues at health care institutions around the country.
Marx D. New York, NY: Columbia University; 2001.
Accountability is a concept that many wrestle with as they steer their organizations and patients toward understanding and accepting the idea of a blameless culture within the context of medical injury. Marx presents the concept from the legal perspective but does so for the non-barrister. Written prior to the acceptance of open disclosure or general policy support of it, the primer thoughtfully outlines the complex nature of deciding how best to hold individuals accountable for mistakes. Four key behavior concepts serve as the structure for the paper: human error, negligence, reckless conduct, and knowing violations. How they are applied to various situations in health care and how the individuals involved should be disciplined provide thoughtful reading.
ISMP Medication Safety Alert! Acute Care Edition. September 21, 2006;11:1-2.
This second part of this series discusses the three types of behavior involved in error—human error, at-risk behavior, and reckless behavior—including causes of each and appropriate responses.
Journal Article > Commentary
Larsen D, Cole R, Higton P. Nurs Stand. 2007;21:35-40.
By introducing several scenarios that illustrate the effective use of a decision-making tree, the authors emphasize the importance of fair response to medication error at both the individual and system levels.
Dekker S. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press; 2016. ISBN: 9781472475787.
Although early efforts in the patient safety movement focused on shifting the blame for errors from individuals to system-failures, more recently the pendulum has swung slightly back to try and balance a "no blame" culture with appropriate personal accountability. This tension was notably described early on in the context of resident training programs. Dr. Dekker's book addresses the traditional criminalization of mistakes and draws from several high-risk industries to illustrate how a just culture is a more effective strategy to learn from and prevent error. He argues that a just culture in health care is critical to creating a safety culture. The third edition offers new content related to restorative justice and explores the reasons why individuals break rules.
Journal Article > Study
Rosenstein AH, O'Daniel M. Jt Comm J Qual Patient Saf. 2008;34:464-471.
This survey of clinicians and managers from more than 100 hospitals revealed that unprofessional behavior is common among both physicians and nurses. Respondents strongly agreed that disruptive behavior adversely affects patient safety and the quality of care, and the authors recommend various approaches that hospitals can implement to address communication and behavioral problems. A prior commentary discussed system-level solutions to addressing unprofessional behavior, and guidelines have been formulated to identify and address such issues. The concept of just culture has been proposed in order to maintain individual accountability for unsafe behaviors, while acknowledging that most errors occur as a result of system flaws.
Legislation/Regulation > Sentinel Event Alerts
Sentinel Event Alert. August 27, 2009;(43):1-3.
Despite the past decade's focus on improving patient safety, most health care organizations are still striving to achieve high reliability status—consistently providing high quality care while minimizing adverse events. In this sentinel event alert, the Joint Commission calls for senior health care leaders to establish a culture of safety within their organizations, use just culture principles to establish transparent and fair policies for addressing errors at the sharp end, and maintain robust structures for analyzing and responding to adverse events. Specific suggested actions include involving hospital boards and patients in safety efforts and making safety performance an explicit part of the evaluation for leaders. Adherence to sentinel event alert recommendations is assessed as part of Joint Commission accreditation surveys.
Journal Article > Commentary
Wachter RM, Pronovost PJ. N Engl J Med. 2009;361:1401-1406.
An early focus of the patient safety movement was a shift from the traditional culture of individual blame to one that investigated errors as the failure of systems, popularized by adoption of James Reason's Swiss cheese model of organizational accidents. In recent years, there has been some backlash against a unidimensional systems-focused model, with past commentaries exploring the tension between a "no blame" culture and individual accountability. Articles in this genre have considered this tension in the educational setting, and a popular construct involves a just culture framework, which differentiates "no blame" from blameworthy acts. This commentary, written by two of the leaders in the safety field, further explores the relationship between blame and accountability, discusses why enforcement of safety standards tends to be lax (particularly in cases involving physicians), and proposes a working balance that not only promotes a safety culture but also safe patient care. The authors highlight hand hygiene non-compliance as an example of a behavior that should be managed through an accountability framework, with providers held accountable for failure to adhere to a known safety standard. They also offer suggested penalties (mostly involving suspension of clinical privileges) for repeated failures to comply with hand hygiene and other established safe practices.
Web Resource > Multi-use Website
Burgemeester van Leeuwenlaan 93-3, 1064KP, Amsterdam, The Netherlands.
This Web site provides patient safety information for developing countries.
Journal Article > Commentary
Philipsen NC. J Nurse Pract. 2011;7:719-726.
This commentary describes how treating medical mistakes in a punitive manner could have a detrimental effect on safe nursing practice and learning from error.
Another round of the blame game: a paralyzing criminal indictment that recklessly "overrides" just culture.
ISMP Medication Safety Alert! Acute Care Edition. February 14, 2019;24.
Quick Safety. April 15, 2019;(48):1-3.
Fatigue, emotional stress, and illness can affect decision-making and lead to misuse of medications. This newsletter article describes the patient safety impacts of drug diversion among health care workers and notes the importance of a culture of constructive reporting to uncover and address this unsafe behavior.
Manchester, UK: General Medical Council; June 2019.
Finding the appropriate balance between assigning criminality and accountability for tragic preventable patient harm is difficult. Summarizing a high-profile case in the United Kingdom that involved the death of a pediatric patient, misdiagnosis, and a senior pediatric trainee, this report explores elements of the criminality and accountability debate across the system and discusses policy, judicial, and individual components of a fair and just response to adverse events to keep organizations, clinicians, and patients safe.