Survey: 'Silent treatment' thwarts safety tools

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The healthcare community has invested in myriad systems to make care safer, such as handoff protocols, checklists and computerized provider order entry systems. However, healthcare professionals still make calculated decisions daily to not alert their colleagues when a safety tool signals potential harm to a patient, according to a study of 6,500 nurses and nurse managers released this week .

Eighty-five percent of respondents reported a safety tool warned them of a problem that otherwise might have been missed and could have harmed a patient, according to the survey, “The Silent Treatment: Why Safety Tools and Checklists Aren’t Enough to Save Lives,” from the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses (ACCN), Association of peri-Operative Registered Nurses and VitalSmarts.  

“And yet, more than half (58 percent) of the participants said while they got the warning, they failed to effectively speak up and solve the problem,” the Aliso Viejo, Calif.-based ACCN stated. The report was based on data gathered from 6,500 U.S. nurses and nurse managers in 2010.

Eighty-four percent of respondents reported that 10 percent or more of their colleagues take dangerous shortcuts, the survey found. “Of those respondents, 26 percent said these shortcuts have actually harmed patients. Despite these risks, only 17 percent have shared their concerns with the colleague in question.”

About 85 percent of respondents said that 10 percent or more of the people they work with are disrespectful and therefore undermine their ability to share concerns or speak up about a problem. “[O]nly 16 percent have confronted their disrespectful colleague,” the report found.

Safety tools are one part of the solution to improving patient care, but they do not compensate for crucial conversation failure in the hospital, the report concluded.