Now for something completely different…

In a parallel life (I’m not sure which one is the real one…), I work as director of professional services and quality assurance for the James Bay health board. This means that I work very hard to make sure that we give care that is safe, respectful of the best possible practices and that promotes the human values of compassion, empathy and self-determination.

This week is Patient Safety Week. The concept of patient safety is rather new to me, since I have been in this position only for a few months. Why should we focus on patient safety? Patients are in our care, they should feel safe, no? Well, the truth is that medical care is one of the most complex ‘business’ there is because there are so many variables involved. When you deal with this type of complexity, bad things can happen. And they do. We try not to call these ‘mistakes’ anymore, because blame does not usually result in a permanent solution. We call them harmful incidents and part of our job in quality and risk management is to make sure that the preventable events do not happen or at least do not recur. Sounds simple, but it is a daunting task.

I wanted to bring up the topic because it touches everyone. If you are ever in the care of the medical system or someone you care about is, you have to be aware that harmful things can happen inadvertently. Ask a lot of questions. Demand to know who is walking into your room and what they are doing. Double check that referrals get to the right place and that the right people are involved in your case. If you feel you are not ready for discharge or that the treatment is making you worse, do not hesitate to tell someone and to pester the staff until someone finally listens. This could save your life.

If a harmful event does happen nevertheless, know that you have rights. You have the right to know exactly what went wrong. This is called disclosure on the part of the staff and the institution. You have the right to an apology for the harm that you have been caused. You also have a right to some compensation, whether it is simply having access to psychological support, accommodations during extended therapy or a financial settlement. But above all, you have the right to be heard so that such incidents don’t happen again.

So this is my little contribution to public awareness. Hoping that you never have to use any of this advice.