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In light of the Patient Safety Conference taking place in Stockholm in October, co-organisers Penilla Gunther, Founder of FOKUS Patient (Sweden) and Mirka Cikkelova, General Manager of the European Patient Safety Foundation (EUPSF), discuss the importance of enabling patients to participate in discussions around their care

Patient involvement throughout their experience in healthcare is increasingly cited as a means of improving patient safety and quality of care. However, gaining patient trust, ensuring that objective information is available, and considering cultural diversity are some of the numerous challenges that need to be addressed. Organisations including the European Patient Safety Foundation (EUPSF) and FOKUS Patient (Sweden) are determined to take the discussion forward during the upcoming Patient Safety Conference and turn words into action.

Why is it important to take a closer look at patient involvement in the context of safety?

Penilla Gunther

PG: The aim of both our organisations and the Patient Safety Conference is to improve patients’ wellbeing and safety throughout their medical journey, but we must realise that medical processes are too often designed and executed without considering patients’ possible fears, wishes and needs. To begin with, much progress still needs to be made to enhance patients’ knowledge of risks and benefits related to specific treatments, encourage them to speak up, be actively involved in the safety process, and ensure they understand the information concerning their rights. At the Patient Safety Conference we want to point out that, for the patient, not being included in the choices that concern him or her and not being well informed, can be a source of great discomfort.

Mirka Cikkelova

MC: Beyond that, we are convinced that an appropriate involvement of the patient can, to some extent, contribute to the improvement of the patient’s own safety and quality of care, for example, through qualitative feedback or an adequate self-preparation for an exam or operation. Scientific studies have confirmed that patients are willing to participate, but this highly depends on the opportunities and on the quality of communication tools offered by the healthcare system itself. Patient involvement can be leveraged to improve patient safety but, at the same time, nothing will happen without dedicated effort.

What needs to be done to move things forward?

MC: The first thing to do is to make hospitals’ safety procedures more transparent and identify the critical interaction points between patient and practitioner all along the care pathways. It is also important to highlight the elements that the interactions should focus on, such as medical history, medication intake or physical activity level. Most of these elements have already been identified by researchers, they are well known and are being used in some hospitals. What is needed now is for healthcare institutions across Europe to acknowledge their importance and implement them systematically in their care pathways, with the appropriate tools, such as a structured interview or checklists to review.

PG: At the same time, we know that one patient is not the same as another and that, for example, gaining the trust of a patient in Sweden may not follow the same process as in Spain. We must take into account the different cultural context, which inevitably impacts the patient’s behaviour, and the practitioner’s too. We must therefore distance ourselves from a ‘one solution fits all’ approach and find the right words and tools, adapted to each context, that will convince all necessary participants of the importance of patient involvement. Professionals such as psychologists or sociologists clearly have a role to play here.

What do you intend to do to move things forward?

MC: We want to facilitate the debate, taking into account the specific context of each country, and amalgamate the views of different specialists concerning issues such as adequate communication or designing of tools. This is the idea of the Patient Safety Conference we are co-organising in Sweden this October, which will address global issues on patient safety and the specificities of the Swedish approach. Subsequently, as a European Foundation, we plan to bring these ideas to other countries through the Patient Safety Conference, especially those where the concepts of patient safety, and patient involvement, are struggling to emerge.

PG: Our aim is not to reinvent the wheel but encourage the exchange of knowledge and good practices between organisations so that we can make things happen on the ground. If you want to find out more, do not hesitate to join us at the Patient Safety Conference!