adverse events

Oct 26, 2010

Listen to patients. And improve the safety of health care

A National Forum on Safety and Quality in Healthcare is underway in Canberra this week. Those at

Melissa Sweet — Health journalist and <a href=Croakey co-ordinator" class="author__portrait">

Melissa Sweet

Health journalist and Croakey co-ordinator

A National Forum on Safety and Quality in Healthcare is underway in Canberra this week. Those attending will today hear today from patient advocate Stephanie Newell about how consumers and healthcare providers can better work together.

Stephanie speaks from personal experience and was moved to advocate for other consumers after the death of her son.

Stephanie Newell writes:

Studies show that 10% of people who go into hospital are harmed in some way and that over 50% of the harm that occurs to patients is preventable.

Healthcare overall is currently overlooking a rich and readily accessible resource that can make a very big difference to reducing and preventing harm to patients.

This resource is the information provided by the patient. Patients must be listened to and the valuable information they provide about their bodies must be taken into account and then acted upon.

After all patients have an intimate knowledge of their own bodies. They know when something isn’t right or when something is happening because they experience it at a physical level.

The events surrounding my son’s death shone a light brightly on this aspect of healthcare for me. My son died during birth.

I gave medical staff some information at critical points and my information was not acted upon.

My son’s delivery was delayed. Vital medical equipment was not ready for use and poor communication between members of my care team compounded the devastation of this event.

It is very common for patients who have experienced an error or harm in healthcare to cite “I kept telling them what was wrong but no one was listening to me”.

Patients and their family members not being listened to, poor communication between health professionals, and inaction were strong messages that came out of the Australian Patients for Patient Safety Workshop that I co-organised last year. This message has been incorporated as one of the tenets of the Perth Declaration for Patient Safety, which was developed at the workshop. (It can be downloaded here by clicking on the patient for patient safety workshop icon).

This workshop brought together health professionals, policy makers and health consumers (many of whom had experienced healthcare harm) to learn from each other’s experiences and develop tools and strategies to improve patient safety, such as the Perth Declaration, and to take these forward together.

Through my association with organisations such as Consumers Health Forum of Australia and the World Health Organization’s Patients for Patient Safety programme, I’ve represented consumers in a range of healthcare forums at a local, national and international level.

In the course of partnering with health professionals and government bodies, I see the focus is shifting from a culture of not including patients in discussions and decisions about their own care to one that is now starting to focus on patient-centred care, which ensures that the patient is an equal and central partner in their own care.

There is still much to be done to expand on this good work and ensure consistency throughout  all areas and levels of the health system occurs.

Listening to patients and working in partnership together is critical to people’s outcomes and also to making the health system safer, responsive and patient centred.

For patients, this means being an active participant in your healthcare and speaking up in all healthcare arenas, not just in hospital.

For health professionals this means listening to the patient, asking for their input and acting upon the information that patients give.

It could save a life.


You can also hear Stephanie Newell’s interview on ABC RN’s Life Matters.

For further information about these issues, the Australian Commission on Safety and Quality in Health Care has recently released a discussion paper on patient-centred care.

Tomorrow’s post from the forum will focus on why hospitals need to lift their game when it comes to human resources management.

For the previous posts in this series:

Brenda Ainsworth

• Jeffrey Braithwaite

(Visited 1 times, 1 visits today)


Leave a comment

3 thoughts on “Listen to patients. And improve the safety of health care

  1. Jenny Haines

    For communication to be effective, there needs to be listening on both sides. Health system staff need to speak in English, that is a basic requirement, now recognised by the registering authorities. Health system staff and patients and their families talk all the time, and listen, hopefully, to what is said. But there may be many reasons that the message sent, is not the message received eg, information given in a rush by a time pressured health care professional and not fully or properly explained; information given in medicalese and not understood by the recipient; information given that the recipient does not want to hear and so does not hear in the way intended; information given that is innocently wrong by an inexperienced practitioner or a practitioner being asked to take greater responsiblity that what they are educated for; information being rejected by the recipient because that is not what they want to hear; information given to an aggressive recipient who does not listen. I could go on and on. Communication in the health system has been identified by numerous researchers as the number one issue affecting outcomes in the health system. There are patients who speak up about their own care. Some do it calmly and assertively, and that is often welcomed by health system staff as it clarifies for the staff what concerns the patient and their family. But there are the aggressive patients and families who make health system staff defensive and cautious. These patients spoil it for everyone because staff become wary in dealing with them, and then wary in dealing with others in case they encounter such nasty aggression again. And then there are the patients and families who need advocates, because they would never dream of being assertive. Nurses are certainly educated to be patient advocates.

  2. Tweets that mention Listen to patients. And improve the safety of health care – Croakey --

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Daniel Arlt, Melissa Sweet. Melissa Sweet said: For safer #healthcare, listen to the patients. Part 3 in a #safetyandquality series from the #ACHSForum: […]

Share this article with a friend

Just fill out the fields below and we'll send your friend a link to this article along with a message from you.

Your details

Your friend's details