A Culture of Patient Safety

Melanie Dempsey, M.S., R.T.(R)(T), CMD
Jul. 22, 2014

Melanie Dempsey with StudentsPatient safety has been a prominent topic in both mainstream media as well as professional literature since the Institute of Medicine landmark report in 1999, To Err is Human: Building a Safer Health System. But no studies have focused specifically on front-line health care team members who deliver potentially harmful doses of radiation on a daily basis — until now.

Jeff Legg, Ph.D., R.T.(R)(CT)(QM), and his coinvestigators — myself and Laura Aaron, Ph.D., R.T.(R) (M)(QM) — are assessing the patient safety culture of U.S. radiation therapists through a survey funded by a research grant from the ASRT Foundation. Additionally we are studying the patient safety culture of cardiovascular technologists in the U.S.

Limited data exist regarding the frequency of accidents and adverse events in medical imaging and radiation therapy because no single agency in this country oversees radiation administration. This prompted us to apply for the research grant to examine factors related to patient safety in the profession.

We have used an Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality survey, “The Hospital Survey on Patient Safety Culture,” to gather data for our research. That survey has information about overall perceptions of safety, frequency of event reporting, patient safety grade of the work unit and the number of events reported, along with workload and demographics.

The intent of our study is to examine the opinions and perceptions of ARRT-registered radiation therapists and angiographers as it relates to their institutional and departmental patient safety culture. Preliminary review of the data indicates only moderate levels of patient safety culture among radiation therapists and cardiovascular technologists. Both groups report positively on intradepartmental teamwork, yet communication with hospital administration often is lacking. Many of the negative aspects of patient safety culture occur at the hospital or institutional level, while respondents gave a positive overall rating to departmental culture and safety processes.

We hope to publish full reports of our findings in 2012 along with suggestions for improving patient safety culture in the profession.

This article was originally published as “Checking Your Pulse on Safety” by Melanie Dempsey, M.S., R.T.(R)(T), CMD, in ASRT Scanner, Vol. 44, No. 2, Page 20. Jeffrey Legg, Melanie Dempsey and Laura Aaron won the Silverman award for their article “Patient Safety Perceptions Among U.S. Radiation Therapists,” which contains the full report of their findings from this research project. The article appeared in the spring 2013 issue of Radiation Therapist.