Medicalizing Patient Safety

Award Year:
Kathleen Sutcliffe, Robert Wears
Patient Safety
Since publication of the Institute of Medicine's landmark 1999 report To Err is Human, patient safety has become the shibboleth for health care providers nationwide. Yet, patient safety today means something much different, and much less radical, than it did 20 years ago, when the movement's pioneers focused on cross-disciplinary efforts to reduce health care hazards and harms. Robert L. Wears, M.D., professor of emergency medicine at the University of Florida Health Science Center, and Kathleen M. Sutcliffe, Ph.D., Gilbert and Ruth Whitaker Professor of Business Administration at the University of Michigan Ross School of Business, are examining the subtle issues around how patient safety has been transformed, and, in essence, become medicalized, controlled by health care organizations and professionals in ways that ensure their continued authority over care processes. Part of the study, Medicalizing Patient Safety, will explore changes in the numbers and proportions of prominently involved clinicians and safety scientists and in patient safety research content and methodologies. The researchers believe that the policy implications from this project will fall into two broad areas: building the human capital to support collaborations between clinical and safety scientists, and expanding the reach and aims of safety research and implementation activities. Findings will identify options for advancing progress in patient safety and for investing in promising avenues of research.