The role of emotion in patient safety: Are we brave enough to scratch beneath the surface?

J R Soc Med. 2016 Feb;109(2):52-8. doi: 10.1177/0141076815620614. Epub 2015 Dec 18.


Healthcare professionals work in emotionally charged settings; yet, little is known about the role of emotion in ensuring safe patient care. This article presents current knowledge in this field, drawing upon psychological approaches and evidence from clinical settings. We explore the emotions that health professionals experience in relation to making a medical error and describe the impact on healthcare professionals and on their professional and patient relationships. We also explore how positive and negative emotions can contribute to clinical decision making and affect responses to clinical situations. Evidence to date suggests that emotion plays an integral role in patient safety. Implications for training, practice and research are discussed in addition to strategies to facilitate health services to understand and respond to the influence of emotion in clinical practice.

Keywords: Emotion; clinical decision-making; impact of error; medical error; patient safety; personality.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Affect
  • Clinical Decision-Making*
  • Emotions*
  • Humans
  • Medical Errors
  • Patient Safety*
  • Personality
  • Professional-Patient Relations*