Patient safety and professional discourses

Patient safety has been presented as a unifying concern across the health professions. This conceptual connection has been accompanied with a focus on standardized, interprofessional safety competencies, in addition to increased attention towards interprofessional education for systems improvement. Despite many program initiatives and research endeavors, progress towards improving patient safety in hospitals is seen as disappointingly slow. This paper contributes to a body of literature that suggests patient safety remains a difficult problem to solve because safety is not simply a technical issue, but is a practice embedded in organizational and professional contexts. This paper explores the differences between the professions, as different professional groups intersect with the ways patient safety is thought about, talked about, and known about in an acute care hospital in Canada. It draws on findings from a critical discourse analysis of documents related to patient safety, as well as transcripts from interviews from (a) formal health care leaders and (b) practicing clinicians from medicine, nursing, occupational therapy, physiotherapy, and social work. This analysis suggests implications for the way different professions may or may not work with each other in the service of patient safety.