Healthcare News & Insights

More than half of health care workers are afraid to blow the whistle on safety issues

Don’t assume employees feel safe reporting safety errors as required: New research shows more than half of health care workers worry that honest reporting will come back to haunt them personally.

That’s the disturbing takeaway of a recent survey of health care workers by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ). The survey looked at data from almost 60,000 staffers at more than 1,100 hospitals to measure how well the organizations had instilled a “culture of safety.” The results aren’t promising.

Most employees reported at least some reluctance to report safety incidents for various reasons. Among the findings :

  • 50% of employees said they thought their mistakes are held against them by management
  • 54% said that when an adverse event is reported, it appears the person involved is “written up” instead of the actual incident or problem
  • More than half of respondents said they don’t feel safe questioning the safety actions of those with more authority, and
  • 37% said they are afraid to ask questions about potential safety mistakes.

The findings are troubling: An environment where workers feel safe reporting potential safety issues is vital to any hospital that wants to improve. Even worse: The results of this survey haven’t changed in any significant way since it was first asked in 2007 — which means all the time and energy spent creating a “culture of safety” hasn’t done much to actually make employees feel safe speaking up.

What would it take for hospitals to make staffers feel truly safe in reporting safety issues? Share your thoughts in the comments.

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