The 10 patient safety concerns every health care worker needs to know about

Keeping patients safe is everyone’s job—though some positions manage it much more than others.

The 10 patient safety concerns every health care worker needs to know about

Patient safety is the backbone of health care. Pardon the pun, but it’s true: By some estimates, hospital errors are the third-leading cause of death (behind heart disease and cancer). As more people get more care because of the Affordable Care Act, and as an aging population puts greater strain on the system, patient safety is becoming a core skill set sought after by hirers at a variety of health care institutions.

Just ask Vicki Good, an authority on the issue. She’s the system administrative director of clinical safety and quality for CoxHealth in Springfield, Missouri, as well as the former president of the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses and one of Becker’s Hospital Review’s 50 Experts Leading the Field of Patient Safety.

“With increasing complexity and competing priorities in health care, jobs focused on patient safety drive excellence within an organization,” she says, adding that people in these pivotal roles not only keep patients safe, they ensure staff safety too. she says.

Building a culture of safety starts at the top, with the patient safety officer or vice president of patient safety: “The patient safety officer or VP responsible for safety is charged with the provision of the entire safety program and establishing and sustaining a culture of safety for the organization,” Good says. These individuals are generally physicians or registered nurses with robust clinical experience and, at least, a postgraduate degree.

While these roles may lead the charge, everyone in health care is on the front lines of this important issue and different organizations may approach the issue in different ways. The editorial team behind Becker’s Infection Control & Clinical Quality recently chose 10 safety issues for providers to consider in 2016—and there are plenty of jobs to address those concerns.

Medication errors

The issue: Medication errors include patients getting the wrong drugs, the wrong dosage or a combination of drugs that interact poorly. These mistakes may be caused by slips in documentation or other types of human error. The Food and Drug Administration says it has received more than 30,000 medication error reports since 1992; this information is reported voluntarily, so the actual number is likely much higher.

Which jobs help reduce the problem: Medication safety officers, who are often clinicians such as pharmacists or physicians, can serve as coordinator to oversee internal error reports and coordinate safety efforts, says Allen Vaida, executive vice president of the Institute for Safe Medication Practices. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, pharmacists made a median salary of $120,000 in 2014.

Diagnostic errors

The issue: A diagnostic error occurs when a health care provider gets a diagnosis wrong. In some cases, the mistake can be minor and simply delay recovery or treatment; other errors can be much more serious. In fact, diagnostic errors cause an estimated 40,000 to 80,000 deaths a year, according to the Society to Improve Diagnosis in Medicine. In addition, the organization says one in every 10 diagnoses is wrong.

What jobs help reduce the problem: Patient safety facilitators monitor adverse events, perform root cause analysis of events, facilitate action plans with teams to improve the system to prevent errors and conduct a risk analysis of processes to prevent errors from occurring, Good says. These individuals are generally health care clinicians from a variety of settings; they are frequently RNs with a minimum of five years acute care clinical experience. Nurses with bachelor’s degrees had a 2014 median salary of $67,000, according to the BLS.

Patient discharge errors

The issue: After a person has been treated by a provider for an acute condition, it’s vital that they know how to care for themselves after they leave. “Discharge practice” refers to the process a provider goes through to release the patient from the health care organization after acute care. The moment of discharge is often seen as a vulnerable time. Too much information can overwhelm while not enough information can put the patient in danger. Standardizing discharge practices can help improve outcomes.

What jobs help reduce the problem: A discharge planner or manager can help develop and establish procedures that ensure standard discharge practices. This position may also track outcomes and look for ways to continuously improve the facility’s discharge process. This position is often held by a nurse—and it pays about $20 per hour, according to PayScale.

Workplace safety issues

The issue: Hospital work can be dangerous. Providers often face the possibility of injury by lifting heavy objects, sticking themselves with surgical instruments, slipping and falling or being harmed by out-of-control patients or visitors. The risk of infection is constant as well. Obviously, patients are also exposed to many of these risks. If these examples weren’t enough to convince you, even the Occupational Safety & Health Administration says hospitals are one of the most hazardous places to work. Hospitals reported a rate of 6.8 work-related injuries and illnesses for every 100 full-time employees in 2011, according to a major OSHA study on hospital safety that year; OSHA says that’s almost double the rate for private industry as a whole.

What jobs help reduce the problem: Occupational health and safety technicians collect data on working conditions and measure hazards. According to the BLS, 2014 median pay was $48,000.

Aging hospital facility issues

The issue: The buildings that house health care organizations are often old and therefore poorly designed for today’s health care standards They may cause issues such as illness due to bad ventilation or injuries from floor layouts that don’t meet modern standards. As safety engineering advances, new buildings and remodels are designed around patient and provider safety.

What jobs help reduce the problem: Building maintenance positions help maintain cleanliness standards and operating systems; according to the BLS, general maintenance and repair workers had a median salary of $36,000 in 2014. Health and safety engineers were paid a median salary of $81,000.

Reprocessing issues

The issue: Instrument reprocessing refers to proper cleaning and storing for surgical instruments and other objects used to diagnose or treat conditions; improperly processed items can spread disease or injure patients. Single-use tools can help reduce reprocessing errors, but they can’t fully replace multi-use instruments.The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the FDA recently released a joint statement recommending that health-care providers reassess their reprocessing policies and procedures.

What jobs help reduce the problem: Front-line employees such as surgical technicians or sterilizing technicians will be involved in reprocessing procedures. Managerial positions may audit and adjust policies and train technicians on proper reprocessing. The median salary is $43,000, according to BLS.


The issue: Sepsis is a life-threatening condition that results from the body reacting to an infection so strongly it damages its own tissues and organs. According to the CDC, incidents of sepsis are on the rise: They increased from 621,000 in 2000 to 1.1 million in 2008. Even people who survive it may face ongoing complications.

What jobs reduce the problem: Sepsis coordinators oversee a health care organization’s efforts to control sepsis through better processes and procedures. The median annual salary for infection control coordinators is $74,875, according to

"Super" superbugs

The issue: Bacteria that are resistant to multiple antibiotics appear to be getting stronger and more prevalent. Bacteria that can’t be treated with antibiotics can quickly turn devastating. The threat from untreatable diseases has major repercussions for public health.

What jobs reduce the problem: Infectious disease specialists are often specialized physicians who may research or treat superbugs. The 2014 median salary for physicians was $187,000, according to the BLS.

Medical device cyber-insecurity

The issue: Wearable medical devices that transmit patient data to remote providers in real time may be vulnerable to hacks. With patient security at risk, health care providers need to establish policies, procedures and training to ensure patient data is protected. And it’s not just devices that track biometric data such as heart rate and respiration; other items such as insulin pumps are also vulnerable.

What jobs reduce the problem: Health care IT positions such as cybersecurity specialist and information security analysts can help protect organizational and patient data. Information security analysts reported earning a median salary of $89,000 in 2014, according to BLS.

Data management problems

The issue: Data analytics refers to the concept of crunching massive amounts of data in new ways to gain deeper insights. For example, data analytics could uncover knowledge about a discharge policy that results in better outcomes at home. Health care organizations, like most major enterprises, generate a massive amount of data around outcomes, patient loads, employee scheduling and so on. The proper mining of all this data is becoming an important challenge for health care institutions. People who use analytics to spot trends or generate insights that can improve patient care, satisfaction or outcomes help the organization’s bottom line, and data scientists possess this increasingly-coveted skill set.

What jobs reduce the problem: Database administrators oversee data storage for health care organizations; their median salary was about $80,000 in 2014. Statisticians’ salaries can range widely, with a median of almost $80,000 in 2014, according to BLS.

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