The safety of patients is a top priority for us in the WHO African Region and is inherent in all our efforts to achieve Universal Health Coverage (UHC) and Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
World Patient Safety Day allows us to highlight this important aspect of our work, and it is celebrated every year on 17 September to raise awareness of the importance of people-centered care and preventing patient harm. Successive annual celebrations since 2019 highlight specific themes that represent a priority area in patient safety.
This year's theme, “Engaging patients for patient safety!” spotlights the requirement for the public to promote healthcare safety through engagement sessions to: First, discuss their role in the co-development of policies, plans, strategies, programmes and guidelines to make health care safer.
Second, offer opportunities to patients and families exposed to unsafe care to share their experiences and tell their stories to improve understanding of the nature of harm and foster the development of more effective solutions.
And third, devise mechanisms to build the capacity of patient advocates and champions in patient safety.
The campaign's slogan, “Elevate the voice of patients!” emphasizes the need to involve patients in their care. Evidence shows that patient engagement reduces health care errors and costs, and improves health outcomes, health care delivery, quality of care and life.
More than 50% of the harm that patients experience is preventable if concerted efforts and requisite investment are done. At WHO and with our partners, we establish mechanisms to steer and coordinate efforts, build required capacity and networks for all aspects of patient safety, including patient engagement, and provide guidance documents and tools for empowering patients and families.
In the WHO Africa Region (AFRO), a number of countries have developed and are implementing National Quality Policies and Strategies (NQPS), including patient safety action plans as well as other safety interventions such as Infection Prevention and Control IPC) to make health care safer. The voices of patients and families are reflected in our activities through various channels, including patient representation on leadership structures and implementation of client feedback systems. Evidently, more activities need to be done to advocate for the importance of patient and family engagement, patient empowerment, and networks of patient advocates.
The quality of care provided in our member states is often jeopardized as a result of lack of coordination and fragmentation of quality programmes, human resource challenges, inadequate data to guide decision-making- to mention a few.
On this day, we reinforce partnerships for patient safety.
The Global Patient Safety Action Plan 2021-2030 outlines important guidelines, including identifying local and tailored approaches to:
- Engage patients, families and civil society organizations in the co-development of policies, plans, strategies, programmes, and guidelines to make health care safer.
- Learn from the experiences of patients and families exposed to unsafe care to improve understanding of the nature of harm and foster the development of more effective solutions.
- Build the capacity of patient advocates and champions in patient safety.
- Establish the principle and practice of openness and transparency in health care, including measures for disclosure of patient safety incidents to patients and families.
- Provide information and education to patients and families for their involvement in self-care and empower them for shared decision-making.
However, there are many barriers to effective patient engagement, such as inadequate knowledge and training, unclear expectations, and power dynamics.
It is crucial to recognize that many stakeholders engaged in health and healthcare in our region need to become more familiar with the concepts associated with patient and family engagement, which are key in ensuring patient safety. They also need more capacity to incorporate patient and family engagement into new or existing patient safety and overall service delivery efforts.
Collective efforts to provide educational tools for patients and deliver programmes and services tailored to their needs and preferences can enhance patient experiences and offer beneficial impacts and better clinical and overall health outcomes.
Unsafe health care has resulted in tragic consequences for patients, their families, and communities. It has had far-reaching financial implications for high-income and low- and middle-income countries, with nearly 15% of hospital expenditure and activity attributed to treating safety failures. In the WHO African Region, out of the 21 countries that possess data, only four have a national patient safety action (or equivalent) plan and a system for reporting patient safety incident that results in serious patient harm or death, such as wrong-site surgery; three reported that they had a patient representative on the governing board in most hospitals; none of the countries had a yearly annual report on patient safety performance or had established a national patient safety network.
I urge our Member States to work together to raise awareness, provide platforms for patient concerns, share initiatives and best practices, and take action to reduce avoidable harm.
As stated in the vision of the Global Patient Safety Action Plan 2021-2030, we can strive towards “a world in which no patient is harmed in healthcare, and everyone receives safe care, every time, everywhere.”
WHO Global Patient Safety Challenge: Engage Patients for Patient Safety
- The Global Patient Safety Action Plan 2021-2030
- CUSP: Patient and Family Engagement - YouTube
- A ROADMAP FOR Patient + Family Engagement in Healthcare Practice and Research Practical strategies for advancing engagement in healthcare—starting today. Roadmap-Patient-Family-Engagement.pdf (air.org)
- Slawomirski, L., A. Auraaen and N. Klazinga (2017), "The economics of patient safety: Strengthening a value-based approach to reducing patient harm at national level", OECD Health Working Papers, No. 96, OECD Publishing, Paris, https://doi.org/10.1787/5a9858cd-en.
- Marzban S, Najafi M, Agolli A, Ashrafi E. Impact of Patient Engagement on Healthcare Quality: A Scoping Review. Journal of Patient Experience. 2022 Sep;9:23743735221125439.
- Graffigna G, Barello S, Bonanomi A, Lozza E. Measuring patient engagement: development and psychometric properties of the Patient Health Engagement (PHE) Scale. Frontiers in psychology. 2015 Mar 27;6:274.
- Tzeng HM, Marcus Pierson J. Measuring patient engagement: which healthcare engagement behaviours are important to patients?. Journal of advanced nursing. 2017 Jul;73(7):1604-9.