Emotional harm: The overlooked patient harm

When it comes to measuring and preventing patient harm, the healthcare industry has been laser focused on physical harm to patients. However, a recent BMJ Quality & Safety article points out that emotional harm from disrespect in healthcare settings is a "neglected preventable harm."

According to the article, an emotional harm can be defined as "harms to a patient's 'dignity' which can be caused by a failure to demonstrate adequate 'respect' for the patient as a person." And addressing these harms should be of upmost importance, the authors argue.

"Ensuring that our profession does not cause preventable harm to our patients requires that we address emotional harms with the same rigor we have applied to physical harms," they wrote.

While this is a noble goal, there are several barriers to achieving said rigor. Those include defining "respect" across patient populations, supporting providers through the improvement process and finding effective, efficient ways of ensuring respect. The industry also needs to come to a consensus on how to capture, categorize, assess the severity of, investigate and correct these errors.

"Overcoming these challenges should become our mission as we fulfill our fundamental ethical responsibility to 'do no harm,'" the authors concluded.

Read the full report here.

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