Engaging Patients for Patient Safety

Hak Yek Tan
Patient Engagement


The World Health Organization (WHO) has chosen Engaging patients for patient safety as the theme for World Patient Safety Day 2023. It is a recognition on the central role that patients, families and caregivers play in improving patient safety. Through the slogan “Elevate the voice of patients!”, WHO calls on all stakeholders to take the necessary actions to ensure that patients are involved in the design of policies and practices and are active partners in their own care.


When patients are engaged, they are more likely to be proactive in managing their health. They are also more likely to be aware of risks and raise safety concerns with providers. Patient perspective and insights are a vital source of learning and improvement. Their voices and experiences should be heard. In this blog, we take a closer look at how patient engagement improves patient safety, the challenges in patient engagement, and what healthcare providers and leaders can do in  in advancing patient engagement.

Recognizing patient’s role in patient safety

Traditionally, hospitals focus on reducing errors by ensuring compliance to policies and procedures from a systems and regulatory perspective. Staff training, process improvement and automation are the means to reduce medical errors. Generally, there is limited patient involvement in safety initiatives and procedures such as response to patient safety incidents. However, there is increasing awareness and recognition that working collaboratively with patients and families is essential to improve patient safety. 

There are good reasons to engage patients and families for patient safety. Partnering with patients and families shows that their insights and experience are valued. Patients provide unique perspective and insights that providers may lack. They are the extra sets of eyes and ears that should be integrated into safety processes. 

WHO calls patient engagement and empowerment a powerful tool to improve patient safety (WHO Global Patient Safety Action Plan 2021-2030). Accreditation agencies such as JCI requires healthcare organizations to actively engage patients in governance and patient safety strategies. This trend is further driven by Patient for Patient Safety (PFPS), a global network dedicated to improving healthcare safety through advocacy, collaboration, and partnership. 

How does patient engagement improve patient safety?

When patients are engaged, they are more likely to:

    • ●  Be well informed about their condition and treatment plans, ask questions, recognize warning signs, and give feedback.

    • ● Adhere to their treatment plans and prescribed medications. This can help to reduce the risk of adverse events such as medication errors.

    • ● Communicate more clearly and effectively with their providers. This can help to prevent errors or misunderstanding, encourage patients to speak up and ensure patients receive the right care.

    • ● Be more aware of safety concerns and issues they encounter. Patients are more likely to give feedback and valuable input for quality and safety improvements.


Active engagement of patients can improve adherence to safety practices. Evidence shows that when patients are treated as partners in their care, significant gains are made in safety, patient satisfaction and health outcomes. 

Patient engagement in safety efforts

Patients play crucial roles in improving patient safety in several ways. First is by actively engaged in the delivery and safety of their care. Example of patients taking ownership over their health and safety are providing their medical history accurately, taking and managing medications, reminding about drug allergies, asking for aids to avoid falls, and being compliant to the advice they receive. Patient’s active involvement can reduce non-compliant on prescribed treatment and medication that lead to adverse events.


Next is by speaking up, asking questions about their care, and reporting errors or unsafe behaviours which they observe. Patients are the extra safeguards for medical errors or potential mistakes overlooked by their providers. 

Patients can also be involved in the design of safety policies and initiatives by giving their unique perspectives and experience. In the recent Patient Safety Incident Response Framework (PSIRS), National Health Service (NHS) sets out a new approach in responding to patient safety incidents. Engaging patients, families and staff affected by the incident can help gain a better understanding on how incidents happen and the contributing factors. (Refer to Compassionate Patient Engagement in QUASR Incident Reporting eBook)

Barriers in patient engagement

Healthcare organizations face some common challenges in cultivating patient engagement. The most cited barrier to patient engagement in patient safety is the individual’s lack of awareness and understanding of what patient safety is, and their role in it. The other key barrier is communication. Effective communication between providers and patients is essential for patient engagement. However, different individuals may have different ability or comfort levels in expressing their needs. Patients and families may lack awareness of healthcare risks, and the implications of their conditions, making it difficult to engage them in their care and in safety practices.

Healthcare providers, on the other hand, often face time and resource constraints when engaging and interacting with the patients. Physicians and nurses need to learn the skills of engaging patients, such as how to provide proper instructions and invite patients to ask questions. Generally, healthcare systems and processes are not designed for active patient involvement. While the use of technology, such as patient portals and telehealth can improve patient engagement, some patients may not have access to these technologies or feel comfortable using them. There are also legal and regulatory issues to be considered to ensure patients’ rights and data privacy are protected and how increased patient involvement could impact provider liability.

Ways to improve patient engagement

There are several ways you can improve patient engagement in patient safety, some of which include:


    • ● Establish clear and effective communication channels with patients. This includes giving clear instructions and informing and educating patients on their health conditions, treatment options and risks involved.

    • ● Encourage patients to speak up on safety issues and to report incidents. This can be done by creating a culture of open communication and building trust.

    • ● Encourage patient feedback and use it to improve patient experience. This includes conducting regular patient satisfaction surveys and responding promptly to patient complaints.

    • ● Increase patient and provider awareness on safety through education and reviewing organizational policies to incorporate the patient’s perspective.

    • ● Use technology such as patient portals, telehealth services or other emerging health technologies to enhance patient engagement and patient experience.
Culture, leadership, and technology the critical enablers

It is imperative that healthcare providers make patient engagement an integral part of their culture, systems, and processes. Leadership commitment is paramount in the cultural shift towards patient centered care. Champion new policies and practices to strengthen patient engagement for patient safety. Create a supportive environment and provide resources to engage patients and families. Finally, leverage on health IT solutions as enablers of patient engagement for safer care and better patient experience.

We believe that culture, leadership, and technology are the critical enablers for patient engagement. In addition, we would like to hear your views about it at hak@healthgrc.com.