Background: Patients can play an important role in improving patient safety by becoming actively involved in their health care. However, there is a paucity of empirical data on the extent to which patients take on such a role. In order to encourage patient participation in patient safety we first need to assess the full range of factors that may be implicated in such involvement.
Objective: To delineate factors that could affect the participation of the patient in quality and safety issues in their health care.
Method: Literature review of patient involvement in health care, drawing from direct evidence (specifically from the safety context) and indirect evidence (extrapolated from treatment decision-making research and the wider patient involvement in health care literature); synthesis and conceptual framework developed, illustrating the known and putative factors that could affect the participation of the patient in safety issues in their health care.
Main results: Five categories of factors emerged that could affect patient involvement in safety: patient-related (e.g. patients' demographic characteristics), illness-related (e.g. illness severity), health-care professional-related (e.g. health care professionals' knowledge and beliefs), health care setting-related (e.g. primary or secondary care), and task-related (e.g. whether the required patient safety behaviour challenges clinicians' clinical abilities).
Conclusion: The potential for engaging patients in patient safety is considerable but further research is needed to examine the influences on patient involvement, the limits and the possible dangers. Patients can act as 'safety buffers' during their care but the responsibility for their safety must remain with the health care professionals.