YOU could drown in the sea of clinical guidelines produced by multiple authorities, yet only rarely has their implementation been evaluated.
The same can be said about the teaching of patient safety.
The Australian National Patient Safety Education Framework was promulgated in 2005 by the Australian Council for Safety and Quality in Health Care. It aimed to provide a simple and accessible framework that identified the knowledge, skills, behaviours and attitudes, and performance that everyone who works in health care requires to optimise patient safety.
The Australian framework informed the development of the WHO Patient Safety Curriculum Guide, released late last year, which was also developed with the aim of integrating the teaching of patient safety into undergraduate medical curricula.
Our team at the University of NSW has just reported the results of a 2010 analysis of how Australian medical deans, educators and students perceive the teaching of the 22 learning topics included in the Australian framework.
All but one Australian medical school agreed to participate, and there were 2413 eligible responses from the three target groups, which included 2301 students.
While there was significant agreement that teaching about effective communication with patients took place, respondents were unconvinced that teaching occurred on the management of complaints (50% disagreed or neutral) and adverse events (35% disagreed or neutral).
These results contributed to the learning area “Managing errors, adverse events, risk and complaints” receiving the greatest proportion of negative responses from students and staff. However, “Open disclosure” after an adverse event received the most positive responses.
There were consistent and significant differences across the stakeholder groups, with the deans being more positive about the teaching of patient safety than educators, who in turn were more positive about it than the students. This may reflect a disparity between what is believed to be taught and what is actually being taught — rhetoric versus reality.
A similar disconnect has been discerned between consultant surgeons and their trainees in the UK, with the former having a rosier picture of the patient safety culture in their hospitals than their trainees.
Given that our Australian study was conducted in the context of the current dearth of evaluation of the implementation of guidelines, it is noteworthy that the majority of respondents were not aware of the National Patient Safety Education Framework. Despite this, most, but not all, of that curriculum is perceived as being taught.
The areas of weakness in medical undergraduate education that were identified and should be targeted include adverse event prevention and management, and management of complaints.
Australian medical schools will need to improve, as the accreditation of medical schools now requires that new doctors have “the skills needed to work safely as an intern”, as outlined in the National Patient Safety Education Framework.
It may also be worth extending enquiries into how doctors are educated in patient safety to the postgraduate domain — both pre- and post-fellowship — currently under the umbrella of the professional colleges, departments of health (by appointment, credentialling and reaccreditation processes), and their various bodies charged with enforcing clinical excellence, as well as the risk management arms of medical defence organisations.
A concerted effort is needed from all stakeholders so that we know what we are teaching, and if we are teaching it well, since eliminating preventable harm is the goal of everyone involved in health care.
Professor Allan Spigelman is professor of surgery at the University of NSW and clinical associate dean at the St Vincent’s Clinical School, Sydney. He previously established Australia’s first Clinical Governance Unit (Hunter Area Health Service, NSW) and is regional editor of the International Journal of Clinical Governance.
Posted 4 June 2012