Getty Images

What are the top patient safety concerns for this year?

ECRI listed workforce challenges and patient access to maternal and perinatal care as the leading patient safety concerns for this year.

Healthcare’s biggest patient safety threats for this year run the gamut of workforce concerns to patient access to maternal and perinatal care and all the way down to new health IT use, according to ECRI, a patient safety organization.

The 2024 list of 10 patient safety concerns spotlights challenges transitioning new clinicians from academic training to professional practice, as well as workforce well-being.

Much of the problem lay in clinician training programs, which were disrupted in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Marcus Schabacker, MD, PhD, the president and CEO of ECRI.

“Through no fault of their own, clinicians who started practicing medicine in the last several years didn’t have the same early experience as those who came before them – before the pandemic laid bare critical weaknesses in our healthcare system,” Schabacker said in a statement.

Poor provider training can impede clinician confidence, increase burnout, and reduce mindfulness around a culture of safety, which most experts assert is essential to improving overall patient safety metrics.

“ECRI’s top patient safety concern is a call to action to set new clinicians up for success through a Total Systems Safety approach and assess and redesign the environments in which clinicians are trained, onboarded, mentored, and supported,” Schabacker advised.

Currently, there isn’t much evidence stating that patient safety has taken a hit due to limited new clinician training and transition, according to Dheerendra Kommala, MD, the chief medical officer at ECRI. However, it’s important to call attention to potential issues early on.

“Hospitals and health systems that are ECRI members have reported to us they’re very concerned about the current state of how newly trained clinicians are transitioned into practice,” Kommala explained in an ECRI press release.

“More research is needed to quantify how this issue impacts patient safety outcomes. In the meantime, early indicators warn us to act now. Investments in this new generation of healthcare professionals will establish a stronger, more resilient workforce for decades to come.”

Although there’s not much data outlining a link between challenging transitions from training to clinical practice due to the pandemic, some data has linked COVID-19 to a decline in patient safety overall.

Experts from patient safety consultancy The Leapfrog Group reported in its spring 2023 Hospital Safety Grades that patient safety events, like hospital-acquired infections, are higher now than they were prior to COVID-19’s outbreak.

The outlook isn’t completely grim. As Kommala noted, groups like ECRI sounding the alarm early may help stem any pronounced patient safety setbacks.

Meanwhile, experts from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) noted that healthcare’s decade of progress toward achieving stronger patient safety is proof positive that the industry can overcome the setbacks it experienced during the unprecedented challenges of the pandemic.

In addition to workforce training, ECRI listed the physical and emotional well-being of healthcare workers as the fifth-highest patient safety concern for 2024.

Best practices & access to care also a threat to patient safety

Workforce well-being is preceded by concerns around barcode medication administration systems, access to maternal and perinatal care, and unintended consequences of technology adoption.

Other experts are sounding the alarm on maternity care access. In August 2023, March of Dimes said maternity deserts and poor access to care affect 5.6 million birthing people in the United States.

It’s even worse in rural areas, the Center for Healthcare Quality & Payment Reform reported in January 2024. More than half (55 percent) of rural healthcare organizations lack a labor and delivery department, resulting in stark maternity care deserts.

Taking up the latter half of ECRI’s list are the complexity of preventing diagnostic error, equitable care for people with physical and intellectual disabilities, drug, supply, and equipment shortages, misuse of parenteral syringes to administer oral liquid medications, and preventing patient falls.

Next Steps

Dig Deeper on Patient satisfaction and experience

xtelligent Health IT and EHR