Both the Institute of Medicine and The Joint Commission recommend that healthcare organizations model their care strategies after those of high-reliability industries such as aviation, nuclear facilities and military operations. One of those strategies is situational awareness, a concept that means you have a clear understanding of what’s going on around you and how to use that information to mitigate risk. While situational awareness is still not a commonly used term in the healthcare industry, it is gaining traction as more clinicians and industry leaders understand the link between awareness and clinical decision-making.
Healthcare isn’t as safe as it should be—a 2016 study from Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine estimates that more than 250,000 people in the United States die from preventable medical errors, making it the third-leading cause of death after heart disease and cancer.
This estimate is much larger than the Institute of Medicine study in 1999, which claimed that nearly 100,000 patients die from medical errors each year, and which kicked off the Institute for Healthcare Improvement’s “100,000 Lives Campaign” national patient safety movement. The difference is that medical errors are often not identified on death certificates as the primary cause of death. Even though value-based care is designed to reduce errors, acute care hospitals often respond to, rather than predict and prevent, events, according to a report published in the journal Hospital Pediatrics.
Situational awareness isn’t a term frequently defined or discussed by circles of clinicians or healthcare professionals. In fact, it’s more commonly used in high-reliability industries such as aviation, military operations and engineering. But as medical professionals begin to understand the important link between situational awareness—i.e. having an accurate understanding of what’s happening with the patient and what’s likely to happen in the future—and clinical decision-making, the phrase is gaining more traction in the healthcare industry.