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Kathleen Sutcliffe
  Kathleen Sutcliffe

Reversing a "Disquieting Trend" in Patient Safety

12/12/2003 --

ANN ARBOR, Mich.---Steps must be taken to reverse the declining involvement of safety scientists in health care, a "disquieting trend" that bodes ill for progress on patient safety, says Michigan Business School professor Kathleen Sutcliffe.

"Organizations and funding bodies interested in improving patient safety should make a conscious and concerted effort to engage scholars and experts in the safety sciences in substantive ways," she said.

Sutcliffe, associate professor of organizational behavior and human resource management at the Business School, and colleagues Robert Wears and Shawna Perry of the Center for Safety in Emergency Care at the University of Florida, recently submitted testimony on "The Medicalization of Patient Safety: Where Have the Safety Experts in the Patient Safety Movement Gone?" at the 2nd National Summit on Patient Safety Research, sponsored by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ).

Using an informal sampling of safety-related meetings hosted by the AHRQ, the Annenberg Foundation and the National Patient Safety Foundation, Sutcliffe and colleagues reported that the absolute number (and relative proportion) of safety scientists speaking to these professional gatherings has fallen sharply over the past five years.

They suggested several possible reasons for the decline, including the health care field's inward-looking culture, its distrust of outside influences, and its reluctance to engage non-medical scholars in patient-safety research. As a result of this centrality, they said, health care lacks "requisite variety," i.e., a sufficiently diverse set of backgrounds, viewpoints, skills and interests needed to effectively address complex problems, such as patient safety.

As an important first step, the three experts urged health care professionals to recognize the problem and respond appropriately by inviting safety experts and scholars from diverse fields, such as organizational behavior, industrial psychology and human-factors engineering, to participate in professional health care programs and review panels.

"Making progress in patient safety demands creativity, innovation and new thinking," Sutcliffe said. "Just as war is too important to be left to the generals, patient safety is too important to be left to the doctors."

View the Special Report on Positive Organizational Scholarship.

For more information, contact:
Bernie DeGroat
Phone: 734.936.1015 or 734.647.1847