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How to Cultivate a Culture of Patient Safety: Six Tips for Healthcare Leaders

A “culture of patient safety” is often defined as an organization’s collective commitment to patient safety as the number one priority. But cultivating a culture of safety is easier said than done. Heath care leaders should consider implementing these six tips to Cultivate a Culture of Safety at their medical facilities:

1. Leadership Call to Action: An Essential Role
The active and visible participation of leadership is essential to making patient safety the number one organizational priority. Leaders can inspire cultural change by connecting with managers and staff by voicing the need for change, discussing with front-liners what is or isn’t working, allocating the appropriate resources and removing barriers to performance.

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2. Take the Temperature of Safety Culture
Studies on the perception of safety culture showed that as you ascend the organization's hierarchy from front-line staff to lower-level and then higher-ranking managers, the perception of safety culture become “rosier.”1 Therefore, managers may not be aware of the cultural deficiencies that impact patient safety. Administering an anonymous cultural survey is an excellent way to get to the truth and flush out the unexpressed staff concerns.

3. Conduct Leadership Rounds
An effective way for leaders to demonstrate commitment to patient safety is through Leadership Rounds, where candid discussions with staff about safety issues serve as the catalyst for change. For more on this topic, read our advice on Leadership Rounding Tips.

4. Education for All
A comprehensive patient safety orientation is one of the best methods for raising awareness and demonstrating an organization's commitment to patient safety. These orientations reinforce a sobering truth that healthcare is a high-risk industry and but for mindfulness and fidelity to safe practices, anyone could find themselves on the sharp-end of medical error.

5. Appoint Champions
Every improvement project deserves a champion. Champions are healthcare leaders with the authority to bend the ear of executive leaders and the charisma to motivate and engage the masses. These intermediaries can assist with removing obstacles, ensuring adequate resourcing, voicing the concerns of front-line staff and improving patient safety.  In short, they help projects move forward. Physician and nursing leaders are ideal for this role.

6. Tap Into Local Talent – An Overlooked Resource
To identify the most effective and sustainable solutions to most patient safety problems, leaders should tap into the expertise of staff. Staff are familiar with workflow and the obstacles to performance, and often generate the simplest, most enduring and cost effective solutions.


1 Wachter, R. Understanding Patient Safety. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2012. 260. Print.


Author Catherine Miller, RN, JD, is a senior risk management & patient safety specialist at the Cooperative of American Physicians, Inc. (CAP)in its CAPAssurance, A Risk Purchasing Group, program that offers hospitals, large medical groups, and other health care facilities access to top-rated liability protection and risk management services.


If you have questions about this article, please contact us. This information should not be considered legal advice applicable to a specific situation. Legal guidance for individual matters should be obtained from a retained attorney.