Patient Safety Climate in Hospitals: Act Locally on Variation Across Units

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Background: An appreciation of how human factors affect patient safety has led to development of safety climate surveys and recommendations that hospitals regularly assess safety attitudes among caregivers. A better understanding of variation in patient safety climate across units within hospitals would facilitate internal efforts to improve safety climate. A study was conducted to assess the extent and nature of variation in safety climate across units within an academic medical center.

Methods: The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) Hospital Survey of Patient Safety was administered in 2008 to all nurses and attending physicians (N = 4,283) in a 900-bed acute care hospital (overall response rate, 69% [n = 2,961]). Responses were analyzed from the 2,163 physicians and nurses (73% of respondents) who could be assigned to one specific clinical unit. Results were examined for 57 units, categorized into six types.

Results: Ratings of various safety climate domains differed markedly across the 57 units, with the percentage reporting a safety grade of excellent ranging from 0% to 50%. The overall percentage of positive ratings was lower for the operating and emergency unit types than for inpatient medical and other clinical units. Even within the six unit types, substantial variation across individual units was evident. Unlike previous findings, physicians reported more negative ratings than nurses for some safety climate dimensions.

Conclusions: Safety climate may vary markedly within hospitals. Assessments of safety climate and educational and other interventions should anticipate considerable variation across units within individual hospitals. Furthermore, clinicians at individual hospitals may offer different relative perceptions of the safety climate than their professional peers at other hospitals.

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: July 1, 2010

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  • Published monthly, The Joint Commission Journal on Quality and Patient Safety is a peer-reviewed publication dedicated to providing health professionals with the information they need to promote the quality and safety of health care. The Joint Commission Journal on Quality and Patient Safety invites original manuscripts on the development, adaptation, and/or implementation of innovative thinking, strategies, and practices in improving quality and safety in health care. Case studies, program or project reports, reports of new methodologies or new applications of methodologies, research studies on the effectiveness of improvement interventions, and commentaries on issues and practices are all considered.

    Also known as Joint Commission Journal on Quality Improvement and Joint Commission Journal on Quality and Safety
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