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January 23, 2019

How Safe Is Safe Enough for Space and Health Care?Communication and Acceptance of Risk in the Real World

Author Affiliations
  • 1Center for Healthcare Engineering and Patient Safety, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor
JAMA Neurol. 2019;76(4):399-401. doi:10.1001/jamaneurol.2018.4405

Patient safety has become an important topic over the last 20 years both for patients and those that provide health care on a worldwide basis. Despite the attention, there is often confusion regarding what the goal of patient safety is. Since 1999, I have posed this question regarding the goal of patient safety during hundreds of presentations to audiences around the world and observed the following responses. Twenty years ago, when given the hypothetical choice between defining the goal of patient safety as ensuring (1) that no individual would ever make an error or (2) that no patient would be inadvertently harmed while under the care of their institution, more than 95% of health care workers selected that the goal was for no one to ever make an error. However, as the health care field has become more sophisticated in how it views safety (which is by selecting the desired outcome rather than the method of achieving it), the latter choice of no patient being inadvertently harmed is now selected in more than 95% of the audience responses. Said another way, safety is nothing more or less than a description of the level of risk that an entity chooses to accept under a given set of circumstances.

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