First World Patient Safety Day (17 September 2019): ‘Patient Safety: a global health priority’

The first World Patient Safety Day will be celebrated on September 17th 2019.

Background Information:

Patient safety is a serious global public health concern. It is estimated that there is a 1 in 3 million risk of dying while travelling by aeroplane. In comparison, the risk of patient death occurring due to a preventable medical accident, while receiving health care, is estimated to be 1 in 300. Industries with a perceived higher risk, such as the aviation and nuclear industries, have a much better safety record than health care does.

Recognizing patient safety as a global health priority, 194 countries came together to establish 17 September as World Patient Safety Day at the 72nd World Health Assembly. On this day, every year, WHO will spotlight patient safety to increase public awareness and engagement; enhance global understanding, and spur global solidarity and action.

The theme is “Patient Safety: a global health priority” and the slogan is “Speak up for patient safety.”

The campaign aims to mobilize patients, health workers, policymakers, academics, researchers, professional networks and the health-care industry to speak up for patient safety.

Key Messages:

Estimates show that in high-income countries, as many as one in 10 patients is harmed while receiving hospital care, with nearly 50% of them considered preventable. 

The occurrence of adverse events, resulting from unsafe care, is likely to be one of the 10 leading causes of death and disability worldwide. Recent evidence suggests that 134 million adverse events occur each year due to unsafe care in hospitals in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs), resulting in 2.6 million deaths annually.

Four out of every 10 patients are harmed in primary and outpatient health care, with up to 80% of the harm considered to have been preventable. The most detrimental errors are related to diagnosis, prescription and the use of medicines.

A minimum of 1 out of every 7 Canadian dollars is spent treating the effects of patient harm in hospital care. Recent evidence shows that 15% of total hospital expenditure and activities in Organisation of Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries is a direct result of adverse events, with the most burdensome events being blood clots (venous thromboembolism), bed sores (pressure ulcers) and infections. It is estimated that the total cost of harm in these countries alone amounts to trillions of US dollars every year.

Investment in improving patient safety can lead to significant financial savings and more importantly better patient outcomes. This is because the cost of prevention is typically much lower than the cost of treatment due to harm. As an example, in the United States alone, focused safety improvements led to an estimated US$ 28 billion in savings in Medicare hospitals between 2010 and 2015. Greater patient involvement is the key to safer care. Engaging patients is not expensive and represents a good value. If done well, it can reduce the burden of harm by up to 15%, saving billions of dollars each year– a very good return on investment.

Unsafe medication practices and errors – such as incorrect dosages or infusions, unclear instructions, use of abbreviations and inappropriate prescriptions – are a leading cause of avoidable harm in health care around the world. Globally, the cost associated with medication errors has been estimated at US$ 42 billion annually, not counting lost wages, productivity, or health care costs. This represents almost 1% of global expenditure on health. 

Inaccurate or delayed diagnosis is one of the most common causes of patient harm and affects millions of patients. Diagnostic error, that is the failure to identify the nature of an illness in an accurate and timely manner, occurs in about 5% of adults in the United States outpatient care settings. About half of these errors have the potential to cause severe harm. In the United States, extensive autopsy research performed in the past decades has shown that diagnostic errors contribute to approximately 10% of patient deaths. Furthermore, medical record reviews demonstrate that diagnostic errors account for 6–17% of all harmful events in hospitals. Evidence from low- and middle-income countries is limited, however, it is estimated that the rate is higher than in high-income countries as the diagnostic process is negatively impacted by factors such as limited access to care and diagnostic testing resources.

Out of every 100 hospitalized patients, at any given time, seven in high-income countries and 10 in low- and middle-income countries will acquire one or more health care-associated infections (HAIs). Regardless of a country’s income level, different types of interventions, including appropriate hand hygiene, can reduce HAI rates by up to 55%. 

Unsafe surgical care procedures cause complications in up to 25% of patients. Almost 7 million surgical patients suffer significant complications annually, 1 million of whom die during or immediately following surgery.

Medical exposure to radiation is a public health and patient safety concern. Radiation errors involve overexposure to radiation and cases of wrong-patient or wrong-site identification. A review of 30 years of published data on safety in radiotherapy estimates that the overall incidence of errors is around 15 per 10 000 treatment courses. 

How Can You Enhance Patient Safety?

If you are a patient or caregiver

  • Be actively involved in your own care
  • It is good to ask questions; safe health care starts with good communication
  • Be sure to provide accurate information about your health history

If you are a health worker or health care leader

  • Engage patients as partners in their care
  • Work together for patient safety
  • Ensure continuous professional development to improve your skills and knowledge in patient safety
  • Create an open and transparent safety culture in health care settings
  • Encourage blame-free reporting of and learning from errors

If you are a policy maker

  • Investing in patient safety results in financial savings
  • Invest in patient safety to save lives and build trust
  • Make patient safety a national health priority

If you are a researcher, student, academic, or professional institution

  • Generate evidence to improve patient safety, your research matters
  • Encourage research in patient safety
  • Incorporate patient safety in educational curricula and courses

If you are from a professional association, international organization or foundation

  • Promote patient safety for achieving universal health coverage
  • Provide learning and development opportunities for patient safety

If you are a public health advocate or from a patient organization

  • Promote patients’ voices in their own safe care
  • Advocate for safety in health care as a requirement

Useful Link:

Link to World Patient Safety Day 2019 web page:



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