Include families in patient safety efforts, education

When risk managers try in so many ways to improve patient safety, patients’ family members are an often overlooked partner, says Karen Curtiss, president of PartnerHealth system based in Boston and founder of Campaign Zero — Families for Patient Safety.

Curtiss created Campaign Zero — Families for Patient Safety to help educate people on how to help their loved ones stay safe in the hospital.

“It’s become a well-known adage now that if you go to the hospital, you should take someone with you to watch out for you and be your advocate,” she says. “But people don’t know what to do when they get there. They want to protect their loved one, but they don’t know how.”

Curtiss urges healthcare risk managers to include family members and other loved ones in the patient safety process. Based on her book “Safe and Sound in the Hospital,” her program attempts to address some proven problems such as how patients tend to forget 80% of what a doctor tells them. The discharge process is another concern, she says, with research showing that many patients are sent home with incorrect or incomplete drug regimens and instructions.

“We teach that it’s OK to stop, take a beat, go through the checklist we provide, and make absolutely certain that the post-discharge care is complete and well thought out,” Curtiss says.

The campaign’s website at offers a “quick course in patient safety” and numerous checklists the families can use to help keep the patient safe, along with other resources. For example, there are checklists on nine topics, including preventing falls and bedsores.

Curtiss urges risk managers to use the website for materials they pass on to family members, and to refer patients directly to the website for more information.

“It’s also important to educate staff on how people are going to start walking in the door with checklists and they will be asking questions, and the nurses can’t take it personally,” Curtiss says. “The culture you want is one in which the staff expect family members to be vigilant and going through their own safety checklists, and we want it to be more noteworthy and unusual when the family members don’t do that.”