7 Essential Patient Safety Tools

Going Back to Basics

Simple and easy to use tools can bring surprising insights and amazing results. Most healthcare professionals especially safety and quality officers are familiar with and use them during their day-to-day work. Yes, we are talking about essential patient safety tools and techniques that ensure the delivery of safe and reliable care. These tools are the foundation of your hospital’s patient safety practices.

This article looks at 7 essential patient safety tools that are commonly used by hospitals and other healthcare settings. Most of the tools are simple and easy to use, practical hands-on techniques. These essential tools are effective and provide a structured and systematic approach to improving patient safety. From fostering a culture of safety and teamwork, understanding the problems and bottlenecks, identifying root causes and areas for improvement, to proactively predicting and preventing failures, the toolkit can bring about sustained improvements. It is your companion in patient safety.

Listed below are 7 essential patient safety tools for your toolbox. You will find a short description for each of the tools, when to use them, how they work and in what way they help to improve patient safety. A general guide on tool selection for specific scenarios is provided for quick reference.

7 Essential Patient Safety Tools and Techniques

  1. Safety Huddles – a short meeting involving multidisciplinary care team members at the start of a workday or shift to focus on care coordination, identify safety issues and flag concerns. It is an effective and efficient way for healthcare teams to review performance, share information and enhance team communication. In the process, it helps to build a culture of safety and teamwork.
  • SBAR (Situation-Background-Assessment-Recommendation) – This is an easy to use, structured form of communication that enables information to be transferred accurately between individuals. It helps you to formulate your thinking and convey information clearly and by doing so prevent miscommunication. SBAR is particularly effective in communication across different disciplines and between different level of staff.
  • 5 Whys – This is a simple yet effective tool used to identity the root cause of a problem by repeatedly asking the question “why” 5 times. It helps us to truly understand a problem and get to the root cause. No statistical data required. This tool allows you to focus your resources on the right area, solve the true cause of a problem and not just its symptoms.
  • Action Hierarchy – Action Hierarchy tools helps to determine the strengths of the action by levels or categories. The outcome of an investigation and root cause analysis are often a set of recommended actions (hence RCA2).  This tool will assist the team to identify corrective/preventive actions that will give the biggest impact and greatest results.
  • Cause and Effect Diagram– Also known as Ishikawa Diagram or Fishbone Diagram, this tool helps your team to explore the many causes contributing to a certain effect, and graphically displays the relationship of the causes to the effect or outcome. It is a commonly used tool to help identify area for improvement. Causes are typically grouped under 5 categories, namely People, Methods, Materials, Equipment and Environment.
  • Process map – Process map or flowchart is a graphical representation of the sequence of steps and how things get done in a process. It helps your team to visualize and have a clear understanding of current processes – an important first step to help identify problems, inefficiencies and areas for improvement. Common symbols are used so that the flowchart is easily understood by everyone.
  • FMEA – FMEA is a tool for conducting systematic analysis of a process or product to identify and prevent the problems before they occur. It prompts your team to proactively review and evaluate what could go wrong (failure mode), why failures happen (failure causes) and the consequence of failure (failure effect).  Improvement plans can then be carried out to prevent those failures. The focus of FMEA is to proactively identify potential risks and their impact, prevent failures and make the system more resilient.

General Guide on Tool Selection

Look for opportunities for safety improvement or launch new safety improvement programs in your hospital. Set your patient safety goals and objectives. Use the following as a general guide to select the appropriate tools.

  • Developing a safety culture, building teamwork and enhancing communication – Safety Huddles, SBAR
  • Finding the root causes of a problem and system vulnerabilities – 5 Whys, RCA2, Cause & Effect Diagram
  • Identifying problems, inefficiencies and opportunities for improvement – Process map (Flowchart), Cause & Effect Diagram
  • Predicting and preventing failures, making system more resilient – FMEA, Action Hierarchy