How Hospitals Can Reduce Unsafe Behavior and Medical Errors

doctors reviewing xray

Roughly 10% of hospital patients experience unintentional harm during treatment in hospitals. Studies suggest that nearly half of these adverse events could be avoided, which is remarkable considering approximately 14% end in disability or death. In order to prevent these accidents from happening, applied psychologists have engaged in numerous research studies. The majority of these patient safety studies have examined data collected from the healthcare staff. However, new research (Reader & Gillespie, 2020) provides insights into how information from patients themselves may be valuable to ensuring patient safety.


The authors argue that hospital patients are a type of organizational stakeholder. Organizational stakeholders are people who may be affected by an organization achieving its objectives. Stakeholders play an important role for organizations. Specifically, stakeholders can provide important information for optimizing decision-making. This information may be particularly valuable to organizations because stakeholders are independent from the organization and provide alternate perspectives from those inside the organization.

In hospitals, patients provide valuable information because they may report safety problems to healthcare employees. This information may be particularly useful because the patients provide perspective that may be otherwise overlooked. For example, patients may report everyday behavior such as ignoring patient information and neglectful care. Patients may also be more likely to report safety issues because they are not employed by the hospital. For example, a healthcare worker may be hesitant to admit mistakes, but a patient is separated from the cultural norms and pressures of the hospital and is more likely to report safety issues.

To test their research questions, the authors compared patient experience surveys and patient complaints with mortality data reported by hospitals in the United Kingdom. The researchers rated the patient complaints from low to high severity. Additionally, they examined whether the patient data had a unique ability to predict mortality, extending beyond the mere predictive ability of data collected primarily from healthcare workers.

Results from the analyses suggest that the severity of patient complaints predicted mortality rates. Further, the data suggest that severity of patient complaints helped predict mortality beyond the data that was collected from healthcare workers.


The results from this study suggest that patient experiences are important to consider when trying to predict adverse events in hospitals. Healthcare organizations should consider expanding their patient surveying capabilities to acquire useful perspectives from patients. Organizations outside of healthcare should also consider hearing the perspectives of their stakeholders to improve safety initiatives in their respective organizations.

Reader, T. W., & Gillespie, A. (2020). Stakeholders in safety: Patient reports on unsafe clinical behaviors distinguish hospital mortality rates. Journal of Applied Psychology, advance online publication.