World Patient Safety Day was established in May 2019, when all 194 WHO member countries endorsed its creation at the 72ndWorld Health Assembly.
Patient safety campaigns have been a significant part of the WHO’s work for many years. Previous notable WHO campaigns, which they called “Patient Safety Challenges,” include:
- Clean Care is Safer Care, launched in 2005. Looking back on the Clean Care is Safer Care campaign remains poignant in 2022. It focused on reducing healthcare-related infections and illnesses by promoting better hand hygiene standards, which we all know about now!
- Safe Surgery Saves Lives, launched in 2008, was a campaign dedicated to reducing surgery risks.
- Medication Without Harm, launched in 2017, aims to reduce global instances of severe, avoidable harm caused by incorrectly prescribed or administered medicines by 50% by 2022.
In addition to these initiatives, the WHO continues to provide guidance and leadership to members through its annual Global Ministerial Summits on Patient Safety.
Establishing World Patient Safety day was another significant step in raising awareness and centralising patient safety goals for healthcare providers worldwide.
The general aims of World Patient Safety day are:
- To increase awareness and engagement among global citizens.
- Enhance the global understanding of patient safety.
- To achieve global solidarity and action around promoting patient safety.
Just how big a problem is patient safety?
In the 1990s, several reports and investigations out of the United States began to clarify how healthcare providers' and workers' errors compromise patient safety. Before then, most of the focus was on cleanliness and hygiene standards, which, of course, is a significant issue and rightly continues to command attention.
The following examples highlight the scale to which patient safety is a problem worldwide.
Patient safety: A top 10 cause of death and disability?
A WHO-cited study by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation highlighted that adverse health events caused by unsafe care were likely among the top 10 global causes of death and disability.
The WHO or a charity will likely aim to provide concrete data around this in the coming years.
A 10% chance of harm if you're hospitalised in a high-income country
The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) says 10% of patients in high-income countries are harmed while receiving care in hospital, with 50% of all instances being avoidable.
The OECD also estimates that 15% of hospital expenditure in these countries directly results from adverse events caused by patient safety shortcomings.
Numbers increase in primary healthcare settings
A separate OECD report estimates that up to 40% of patients are harmed in primary healthcare and outpatient care settings. Shockingly, the OECD also estimates that up to 80% of this harm is preventable and is typically caused by:
- Misdiagnosis of conditions
- Errors in prescribing medication
- Errors in directly administering treatment and medicines
Patient safety shortcomings directly led to millions of deaths in LMICs
Globally, it is estimated that two-thirds of all adverse events caused by patient safety shortcomings occur in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs). Additionally, it is estimated that two-thirds of the global total of quality-adjusted life years lost due to disability and death are because of such events occurring in LMICs, too.
The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine estimates 134 million adverse events in LMICs annually in hospitals alone. These events directly contribute to over 2.6 million global deaths per year.
It is statistics like this that can drive people to consider international health insurance, even in LMICs where universal healthcare may be available even to expats.
How can patient safety be improved?
Ask a handful of people this question, and the answers you get will be similar.
Cleaner hospitals and more training for medical professionals would undoubtedly be among the opportunities to improve patient safety that many people would name.
However, the OECD states both patient safety-related adverse events and associated expenses would fall by 15% if medical professionals merely engaged their patients better. Since patient engagement is a crucial consideration for healthcare professionals, this should be a straightforward way to address a significant issue.
What is the theme of World Patient Safety Day 2022?
World Patient Safety Day 2022 has a theme of "Medication Safety". It aims to reaffirm the objectives of the Medication Without Harm Patient Safety Challenge we mentioned earlier. According to the campaign, the global cost of medication errors is an estimated $42 million annually. The Medication Without Harm campaign cites several human factors as being behind medication errors, including:
- Poor environmental conditions in healthcare settings
- Staff shortages
While the WHO says global healthcare providers have introduced multiple interventions to address and reduce the frequency of medication errors, the implementation and success of these vary. The WHO also continues to cite the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic as a significant factor leading to an increased risk of medication errors occurring,
When the WHO launched the Medication Without Harm campaign in 2017, it set an objective of reducing avoidable medication-related harm by 50% by 2022, so there will likely be an update on progress during this year's event.
Additional considerations for World Patient Safety Day 2022
This year, World Patient Safety Day highlights specific situations where medication-related harms are more likely to occur.
- High-risk medical situations
- Transitions of care between healthcare providers and professionals
- Polypharmacy – the concurrent use of multiple medications
- Patients taking or being prescribed “lookalike” or “soundalike” medications in error
What are the objectives of World Patient Safety Day 2022?
The WHO has set four objectives for this year’s World Patient Safety Day:
- Raise global awareness of the burden of medication-related harm due to errors and unsafe practices and advocate urgent action to improve medication safety.
- Engage key stakeholders and partners in efforts to prevent medication errors and reduce medication-related harm.
- Empower patients and families to be actively involved in the safe use of medication.
- Scale up implementation of the Medication Without Harm campaign.
How to get involved in World Patient Safety Day 2022
This year's World Patient Safety Day will see the WHO present a range of virtual events and summits. You can learn more about World Patient Safety Day 2022 and associated events and download resources and guides about the event and this year's theme from the WHO’s campaign page.