Putting the 'patient' in patient safety: a qualitative study of consumer experiences

Health Expect. 2012 Sep;15(3):327-36. doi: 10.1111/j.1369-7625.2011.00685.x. Epub 2011 May 30.


Background: Although patient safety has been studied extensively, little research has directly examined patient and family (consumer) perceptions. Evidence suggests that clinicians define safety differently from consumers, e.g. clinicians focus more on outcomes, whereas consumers may focus more on processes. Consumer perceptions of patient safety are important for several reasons. First, health-care policy leaders have been encouraging patients and families to take a proactive role in ensuring patient safety; therefore, an understanding of how patients define safety is needed. Second, consumer perceptions of safety could influence outcomes such as trust and satisfaction or compliance with treatment protocols. Finally, consumer perspectives could be an additional lens for viewing complex systems and processes for quality improvement efforts.

Objectives: To qualitatively explore acute care consumer perceptions of patient safety.

Design and methods: Thirty-nine individuals with a recent overnight hospital visit participated in one of four group interviews. Analysis followed an interpretive analytical approach.

Results: Three basic themes were identified: Communication, staffing issues and medication administration. Consumers associated care process problems, such as delays or lack of information, with safety rather than as service quality problems. Participants agreed that patients need family caregivers as advocates.

Conclusions: Consumers seem acutely aware of care processes they believe pose risks to safety. Perceptual measures of patient safety and quality may help to identify areas where there are higher risks of preventable adverse events.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Communication*
  • Drug Therapy*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Patient Safety*
  • Patient Satisfaction*
  • Personnel Staffing and Scheduling*
  • Qualitative Research