Looking back on the history of patient safety: an opportunity to reflect and ponder future challenges

Looking back on the history of patient safety: an opportunity to reflect and ponder future challenges

The publication of To Err is Human by the US Institute of Medicine (IOM) helped launch not just the field of patient safety but the broader interest in healthcare quality. The report’s estimates of 44 000–98 000 annual deaths from medical error in US hospitals—eye-catchingly equated to a jumbo jet crashing every day and a half—captured headlines and widespread attention. The IOM (now the National Academy of Medicine, NAM) followed up this success with Crossing the Quality Chasm, which notably defined quality in terms of six distinct dimensions, including not just safety, but also effectiveness, patient centredness, efficiency, timeliness and equity.

Many might have feared that the interest generated by these two reports would represent passing fads rather than enduring fields. Thankfully, that has not occurred. Patient safety and broader quality improvement efforts remain active areas of research and operational activities in healthcare organisations around the world. In addition, some funding agencies focus on healthcare quality, as do an increasing number of journals, such as BMJ Quality and Safety, and many public interest advocacy groups have been spawned.

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