Conventionally, patient safety is concerned with the prevention of adverse events that may result in injury or death of patients. The concept of patient safety covers a range of practices such as hand-washing, medical precision and patient handling or movement from one bed, ward or department to another. One of the main limitations of this concept is that little or no emphasis is placed on the psychological or emotional well-being of patients and health care providers such as doctors and highly trained nurses. However, health researchers need to pay much more attention to patient psychological or emotional safety since; it may be argued that patients who feel psychologically or emotionally safe recuperate faster than those who do not. Patients made to feel psychologically safe may demonstrate greater self-efficacy, self-belief and self-esteem that may contribute to their recovery to good health in shorter time. This paper will outline three ways of improving patient psychological or emotional safety in a healthcare facility or in the patient-provider relationship. They are communication, education and good physical facilities. Also, it will explain one reason why patient safety is significant to provider well-being.
Psychological or emotional safety draws attention to patients’ mental state. It implies that healthcare should be concerned with the all-round development of the patient. While physical care is important, it is also imperative that health providers monitor the way they impact patients’ emotions by their communication with them and the way they empower them so that they be made to feel self-confident and self-efficacious.
Effective provider-patient communication can improve patient safety and impact faster recovery. Patients treated with courtesy and professionalism are more likely to feel safer psychologically. This means that patients must perceive that healthcare providers are knowledgeable, highly trained and skilled, and care about their well-being. In terms of communication, health providers and patients must interact with one another cordially and demonstrate mutual respect. Health providers should be quick to make accurate diagnoses of patient communicative competence and employ the most appropriate methods to interact with them. Effective communication cannot be prescribed or standardized. The reason is that patients’ communicative competence depends on their state of health and well-being. A patient in excruciating pain will not be as communicative as another who is pain-free. On most occasions, health providers should refrain from using technical language or jargon if they are unwilling to explain their meaning or assist patients in deconstructing them. When health providers are collaborative with patients, patients will not apply the worst case scenario to their medical problem thereby increasing the perceptions that their health is poor.
When communicating with family members it is imperative that health providers maintain professionalism at all times and treat them with utmost respect. This is the case because family support plays a significant role in patient safety. Happy family will contribute toward happy patients. In essence, health providers, patients and family are the main persons involved in patients’ return to good health. For quick recovery,they must communicate effectively with one another.
It is well-known that most, if not all, patients are happy when health providers develop rapport with them, taking time to understand their emotions and overall feelings. In other words, patients are appreciative when they are treated humanely and safely. They feel strongly when their opinions matter in their diagnosis and treatment. In addition, it makes them feel secure, comfortable and significant. Doctors and nurses’ general demeanor should help to create an atmosphere conducive to early recuperation. Health providers who are approachable, yet firm, can instill confidence and feelings of efficacy when patients need to feel this way the most.
Effective non-verbal communication can improve feelings of patient safety significantly. Head and hand gestures, facial expressions and body language when used appropriately can help alleviate many patients’ health fears and concerns. This form of communication should never be undervalued. For some patients it may be the only means of communication. For instance, patients with mouth and throat infections, severe orthopedic injury and in a semi-comatose state are easier to communicate with through facial expressions and reassuring hand gestures. Nonverbal communication can play a significant role in making patients feel psychologically safe.
Effective health education would go a long way toward the improvement of patient psychological safety. Patients informed of the causes and adverse effects of their ailment, illness or disease and the appropriate coping mechanisms are able to take steps to minimize the hardships associated with negative health news. The assumption is that negative health news can worsen their state of psychological or emotional well-being. All stakeholders; health institutions, health providers, patients and their family should be engaged in health education and appropriate issues explored via different media such as billboards, television, focus group discussions and poster presentations. One example is that children in a pediatric ward should be communicated with via simple language that motivates them to get well again. The television can be an effective way of communicating with them by demonstrating ways of preventing infection.
Attention should be paid to the physical condition of health facilities. Clean well-kept and properly lit surroundings are important to patient psychological or emotional well-being. In general people, whether sick or well, feel better in a physical environment that is aesthetically appeasing. Security is paramount. Surveillance by security guards on wards and the strategic positioning of close circuit television cameras throughout the health facility will reassure patients’ feelings of safety and security. It should be reemphasized that their right to privacy should never be compromised or violated by the use of cameras on wards.
In the traditional perspective, patient safety is centered on patients. However, consideration of health provider psychological or emotional well-being is necessary if they are to continue performing their duties as expert helpers. They should not be forced to work too many long shifts. Working frequently for more than eight hours a day will be deleterious to health provider concentration and psychological health. Being overworked may increase health provider risk of making medical errors that may be harmful to patient well-being. Because providers are people too, they will feel psychologically or emotionally diminished when they make costly errors in healthcare.
This paper opines that traditional perspectives on patient safety are limited to the physical domain and that more emphasis should be placed on the psychological or emotional impact of health provider care on patients. It argues for a multi-factorial approach. Toward this end, three mechanisms were outlined. They are communication, education and the physical conditions of health facilities. It concludes by outlining briefly the negative impact of adverse emotional effects on health providers that may result from demanding work schedules.