New data shows that a focus on patient safety is more important than ever

November 21, 2022

New data shows that a focus on patient safety is more important than ever

By Jennifer Zelmer

My favourite neighbour is a retired nurse who stays in touch with many of her former colleagues. When she recently had planned surgery, patient safety and the safety of those caring for her in hospital were on her mind, knowing that healthcare is under strain. Fortunately, all went smoothly and she’s delighted to be recuperating at home, which has given us a chance to spend time together and talk about the theme of this year’s recent Canadian Patient Safety Week, “Press Play on Safety Conversations.”

Now more than ever, we encourage everyone - whether giving or receiving care - to have safety conversations that can reduce unintended harm. And to act on them.

According to data recently released by the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI), during 1 in 17 hospital stays in Canada in 2021-22, people experienced unintended harm that evidence-informed approaches can help to prevent. That’s about 140,000 out of 2.4 million hospital stays. Overall hospital harm is up from a pre-pandemic rate of 5.4 per 100 hospitalizations in 2019-20 - a rate that had been stable since it was first reported in 2014-15.

While most people cared for in hospitals in Canada receive safe care, unintended harm does happen. Of that measured in the CIHI data:

  • 47 percent involved healthcare and medications, such as bed sores or getting the wrong medication
  • 31 percent were related to infections, such as surgical site infections
  • 18 percent were procedure-related, such as bleeding after surgery
  • 4 percent involved patient accidents, such as falls

Patient harm in Canadian hospitals? It does happen. Hospitals are generally safe, but sometimes harmful events happen that affect patients. Many of these events are preventable.  How often does it happen? In 2021–2022, 1 in 17 hospital stays in Canada involved at least one harmful event (a total of 140,000 out of 2.4 million hospital stays).  What kinds of harmful events happen? There are 4 categories of harmful events. In 2021–2022, 47% were related to health care and medications (like bed sores or getting the wrong medicine); 31% were related to infections (like surgical site infections); 18% were procedure-related (like bleeding after surgery); and 4% were patient accidents (like falls).  What can be done about this? We are collecting data on how often these events are happening, using a new hospital harm measure. And we are providing information on how these events can be prevented.    Note that all numbers mentioned here exclude Quebec and selected mental health diagnoses.  Copyright 2022 Canadian Institute for Health Information, Healthcare Excellence Canada

Safety is not simply the absence of harm, but a sustained, proactive effort involving everyone in the care journey. And it matters not only in hospitals but in all care settings. We appreciate everyone - as providers and recipients of care - taking opportunities to ask, listen and act to help reduce risks and deliver safer care. Thank you.

Resources at your fingertips

We offer many evidence-informed resources and steps that you can take to help improve safety and reduce unintended harm. Visit