Kate FitzPatrick, DNP, RN, NEA-BC, FAAN, is chief nursing officer at the University of Vermont Medical Center.

Kate FitzPatrick, DNP, RN, NEA-BC, FAAN, is chief nursing officer at the University of Vermont Medical Center.

A study published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) on Tuesday, suggests that medical errors in hospitals and other health care facilities continue to be incredibly common and may soon rise to be the third leading cause of death in the United States, claiming 251,000 lives each year.

Nurses represent a key line of defense against errors. They spend the most amount of time with patients and by the nature of their work are educated to proactively assess for patient risk. I know that our nurses at the UVM Medical Center are responsible for recognizing and calling out safety risks every single day. I have had the honor of presenting several nurses with the “Good Catch Award” in my short time here – a recognition that celebrates nurses who identify a safety concern and report it.
Given the recent analysis in the BMJ, there still remains significant gaps in patient safety and nurses are a critical link that we must mobilize in new ways to limit harm to patients.

What can nurses do in the ongoing fight to get to zero harm?

Below are a few of the ways that nurses can support a culture of safety:

  1. Report near misses and known safety risk conditions;
  2. Be knowledgeable about common risks in the patient populations they work with and engage in proactive risk assessments to limit conditions that can lead to harm;
  3. Be active participants in after-event analysis to learn what conditions lead to patient events and participate in action planning to improve risky conditions;
  4. Share broadly learnings from patient safety events;
  5. Engage in activities that strengthen understanding of the roles and stresses of other team members (pharmacy, respiratory therapy, physicians, APPs, etc.);
  6. Avoid “work-arounds” in clinical processes that lead to increased risks for patients;
  7. Engage in active peer feedback to support safe practice and be open recipients to feedback to assure patient safety and high quality nursing practice; and
  8. Partner with patients and families to understand vulnerabilities and engage them in assessing for risk.

As we celebrate National Nurses Week 2016, I give thanks to the amazing nurses across the UVM Medical Center who, in addition to having deep empathy and compassion, also bring rich competence and skill to our interprofessional team. Thank you for your contributions to care and service for patient advocacy.

Kate FitzPatrick, DNP, RN, NEA-BC, FAAN, is chief nursing officer at the University of Vermont Medical Center.

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