HealthPRO News

October 25, 2019

Industry Insights: CPSI’s Chris Power Talks Patient Safety

In recognition of Canadian Patient Safety Week, HealthPRO spoke with Canadian Patient Safety Institute CEO Chris Power about her fierce focus on patient safety and what lies ahead for CPSI.

Chris Power's healthcare journey began at the bedside as a frontline nurse. This ever-changing and complex field turned out to be her calling and she has grown into one of the preeminent healthcare executives in Canada. Chris’s experiences, her values and her passion for patient safety led her in 2015 to the position of CEO of the Canadian Patient Safety Institute.

What began as a desire to help those in need has evolved into a mission to improve the quality and safety of healthcare for all Canadians.

Congratulations on CPSI’s 14th annual Canadian Patient Safety Week (CPSW). How did it first get started?

I wasn’t part of CPSI when Canadian Patient Safety Week was launched in 2005. However, we knew that this was our mandate – to spread the word and take a week to shine a spotlight on patient safety and quality. It started out as a week but, as we evolve, we know that we will be celebrating patient safety every day of the year!

Ahead of CPWS, HealthPRO polled clinicians across the country about their own patient safety initiatives and perspectives; 98.6% of respondents feel that their healthcare facility actively implements initiatives or processes to improve patient safety.  In your opinion, what are the key enablers to patient safety within a healthcare facility?

When you go back and analyze how harm was done and the key contributors, we see three top results over and over: teamwork, communication and culture. When an organization is strong in these areas, you see excellent safe systems. When I was a practicing nurse and CEO of a health authority, and now at CPSI, you still see the same things – where patients fall through the cracks, when harm often happens, you can point to the major contributors. It always comes back to teamwork, communication and culture.

This year’s CPSW theme is #ConquerSilence and communication was shown to be a very important topic based on our survey results. If there was one thing you would like to see all clinicians or healthcare facilities do to improve communication as it pertains to patient safety, what would that be? 

A good place to start is with ourselves. Even as healthcare professionals, we speak different languages – physicians have a way of communicating with each other, nurses have a special way they chart, physiotherapists and OTs communicate a certain way. We don’t even speak the same language amongst ourselves!

This year’s theme is #ConquerSilence and the reason we landed on that is around the idea of speaking up. That means finding your inner voice if something doesn’t look or feel right. We see this all the time – people will say, “This doesn’t look like the pill I usually take but I thought the nurse must know. Things didn’t look right, but I trusted.” In healthcare, we have a deference to authority. And it’s not just patients and families; as healthcare professionals, we often don’t question authority.

For me, that is a key communication tool and a key enabler. When things don’t look right or feel right, speak up. It will make a huge difference on the patient safety front when we can all find our inner voice.

As part of our poll, we also asked participants what they thought would have the biggest impact on patient safety. The top three identified were:

  • Process improvements
  • Electronic Health Records
  • Recognizing that patient safety should continue to be a focus once the patient leaves the hospital

Are there any surprises here? If you could identify just one thing that would have the biggest impact on patient safety, what would it be?

Those are important things for sure, but I am surprised that those were the top three. Electronic Health Records, while they are a great enabler, I don’t know that they are the silver bullet because you know what? There is no silver bullet! Those are all important contributors to improving patient safety but I think communication has the biggest impact.

The third point – transitions in care – is huge. We see so many errors happen when people leave one area for another – whether that’s going from the hospital to home, the ER to home, or home to long term care. We’ve been very focused in the patient safety world on hospital-based care, but we know from studies we’ve done that more harm happens in home-based care because it’s not as controlled an environment. There is a lot of attention being paid to the area of transitions.


When you go into Canadian Patient Safety Week each year, what do you hope the end result will be in terms of impact to patient safety across Canada?

The whole point of CPSW is to raise awareness, to get people excited about patient safety and understand how important it is. We always do an evaluation and we learn from that. Every year we see more and more people engaged, not just in Canada but around the world. Now that we’ve moved into public engagement, it’s not just about raising awareness in healthcare but we’re awakening the public as well. It’s not to frighten people but to make sure they know they have a role to play and to give them the tools and resources they need to do that.

Outside of Canadian Patient Safety Week, what would you say are some of the most impactful initiatives CPSI has undertaken in recent years to help improve patient safety and why?

We say that we’re small but mighty. One of the big ones we’re really proud of is Patients for Patient Safety Canada. This is a CPSI program, comprised of patients, families and interested people who have been harmed by the healthcare system or are close to someone who has been harmed, and who are dedicated to improving patient safety at all levels in the healthcare system.

Two years ago, we launched a new strategic plan with a different theory of change – our previous strategy was built around the idea that if you build it, they will come. So, we pushed out tons of tools and resources with the goal that everyone would use them, and care would improve. We realized that you need a push and a pull strategy, so we’ve been focused on getting these tools and resources embedded in the standards, embedded in the legislation and policy side of things so they become part of the fabric of our being.

We’re proud of the National Patient Safety Consortium, which brought over 50 organizations and hundreds of people together to define the key actions we should take together across the country to improve patient safety. There’s the WHO Global Patient Safety Challenge and we’re working with ISMP Canada to collaborate with the rest of the world on reducing medication errors. Lots of amazing things – those are some of the highlights!

Looking at where you started and where you are today. What makes you feel good about the journey?

When I was in nursing school, we didn’t talk about safety. We didn’t even talk about quality. Quality assurance was just starting when I started my career as a nurse, and we had just one person who wore the hat of quality assurance in our organization.

Now all these years later, there isn’t a healthcare organization that isn’t thinking about how to provide safe care and there isn’t a person who doesn’t start their day wanting to deliver excellent care. We’ve come a really long way in terms of paying attention to quality and safety. I know we have a way to go but people are interested in delivering safe care and that gives me hope. It’s a complex system, it’s tough to do, but I feel like the stars are starting to align for us.

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