The Importance of Situational Awareness in Patient Safety

Posted on Nov 29, 2016

Situational awareness is described in the United States Coast Guard training manual as: "the ability to identify, process, and comprehend the critical elements of information about what is happening to the team with regards to the mission. More simply, it's knowing what is going on around you." In the context of
safety and security solutions on land and in the halls and rooms of your healthcare facility, applying this definition of situational awareness to your work is essential to the safety of patients. The Coast Guard and a hospital can seem like polar opposites on the surface, but they share one thing absolutely in common: teamwork and situational awareness can literally mean the difference between life and death.

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For healthcare providers, this concept may seem like a non-technical skill, but it is still extremely vital. The patient is the purpose and is at the center of all situational awareness efforts. You are working and executing procedures with and for them, and in intense environments; your ability to respond to your dynamic environment can have direct effects on a patient's safety.

Situational awareness can be improved in everyone, even the most seasoned healthcare veteran. Here are three fundamental elements of situational awareness everyone in your organization can work on:

  • Information gathering: Awareness of a situation begins and is improved with the gathering of information. Take in everything you can: charts, surrounding environment, patients' subtle human cues, and grab any available piece of background on a given circumstance. There is no bit of information too small for you to ignore. Take in every detail that you can. With that in mind, however, always weigh the sources of your information. Evaluating an information source as credible, or not, can result in adjusting the importance you place on certain pieces of knowledge.
  • Comprehension: While becoming aware of any situation, information gathering never ends. Comprehending that information is constantly coupled with taking in more information. Thinking critically in a complex environment is a learned skill, one that takes practice and experience. Remember to always gather yourself, and create a mental place of peace to sort everything you are taking in.
  • Thinking Proactively: Now that you have information, and have comprehended it to the best of your ability,
    take action. Thinking and acting proactively is the culmination of good situational awareness and all that goes into it. Always look a few steps ahead.

These few suggestions just scrape the surface of the various ways situational awareness can be improved upon and applied in a healthcare setting. Safety and security solutions are based on the foundations of this thought process. No matter your experience level, thoughtful and purposeful situational awareness will always be an invaluable skill to possess.

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