patient safety quality healthcare

Editor's Notebook: Personal Accountability

May/June 2013
Editor's Notebook

Personal Accountability


I’m struck by the number and variety of patient safety initiatives that individuals, organizations, and government entities have underway. We’re engaged in so many different activities in the name of safety and quality, it’s hard to tell if we’re headed collectively toward a coherent goal. Despite success stories and pockets of excellence, many still wonder if we’re better off than we were a decade ago. In patient safety, how can we be sure that we’re cultivating a forest and not just a vast collection of specimen trees?

Reviewing this issue of PSQH and reflecting on conferences I’ve attended recently, I see a common theme that may serve as a unifying force for all this activity. I hesitate to call it “patient engagement,” a term that ironically seems provider-focused. I’m thinking of something even broader than patient engagement, which I’ll call “personal accountability” and apply it to everyone involved in healthcare. I truly mean everyone, as we all become more engaged in our own health. I see personal accountability woven through articles in this issue and articles I have in review, as well as in presentations delivered at events as diverse as HIMSS, the National Patient Safety Foundation’s annual Patient Safety Congress, and SAS software’s annual Health Care and Life Sciences Executive Conference. Across these examples and more, personal accountability—taking responsibility for performing at our best and being honest and respectful in all relationships—helps ensure success for any improvement project. Here are some examples:

  • In this issue, effective communication and high-performing teams are necessary ingredients for solutions to challenges as diverse as diagnostic errors; infection control; and patient, family, and clinician support following adverse events.
  • At NPSF’s Patient Safety Congress, author Suzanne Gordon staged a reading of Bedside Manners, a play and teaching tool she co-created with Lisa Hayes. The play focuses on dysfunctional relationships among caregivers and the effect of toxic behavior on caregivers, patients and families. The reading was effective, all the more so for the dozen healthcare professionals and consumers who performed with authentic power—joined by just two professional actors.
  • At the SAS meeting, presenters discussed opportunities to bring software analytics to the point of care, in support of personalized healthcare. Across diverse specialties and care settings, discussion centered on transforming relationships among caregivers and patients, as well as the relationship of patients and consumers—citizens—with their own health. It’s harder to avoid personal accountability for our own actions when we’re informed by clear, actionable, real-time data.

In the end, personal accountability—whether it’s a nurse scanning every drug for every patient every time, an executive engaged in frank discussion with a disruptive provider about his or her behavior, an IT professional working on a patient safety fellowship, a physician in TeamSTEPPS training, a family member volunteering on a hospital committee, or a diabetic patient tracking and sharing data with a health coach—improves relationships, patient safety, and so much more. In time, personal accountability may hold the key to spreading patient safety so widely that it becomes the norm.


ABQAURP American Society for Quality American Society for Quality Healthcare Division Consumers Advancing Patient Safety
EMPSF Institute for Safe Medical Practices
Medically Induced Trauma Support Services (MITSS) Medication Safety Officers Society NPSF Partnership for Patient Safety Society to Improve Diagnosis in Medicine