Psychology as a discipline has contributed significantly to most if not all other related and unrelated disciplines. As psychology is most broadly defined as the study of the mind and behaviour psychological research can yield extremely useful and practical information that can be readily applied in various settings. One area that has benefited from psychological teachings has been in the area of healthcare practice. In particular the area of patient safety and the notion of making healthcare safer for patients has been impacted on positively by information gained from health psychology research and practice.
In their editorial piece in the most recent issue of the British Journal of Health Psychology, Psychologists Charles Vincent, Alison Weardon, and David French discuss the existing contribution of health psychology to this area and address the gaps where further contributions are yet to be made. According to the authors, approximately 50% of the incidences of patient harm that occur in healthcare settings are avoidable (e.g. prescribing errors, diagnostic errors). Already health psychologists have reduced the likelihood of patient harm occurring through providing information and interventions to healthcare professional that improve methods of diagnosis, awareness and decision-making skills, and that decrease stress and psychological trauma.
Vincent and his team suggest that despite the huge impact that health psychologists have made on improving patient safety to date, there is much more that can be done. Fundamentally they highlight how the core learnings that exist regarding behaviour change should be applied on wide scale basis to interventions that help health professionals to adhere to the necessary standards for healthy practice. Additionally Vincent and his colleagues argue that health psychology has the ability to utilise expert understanding about group processes to help improve leadership, team-working and overall communication in healthcare settings that include surgical teams and emergency response teams, where most patient safety issues occur. Finally, they suggest that health psychologists have a clear but yet underused role in terms of managing the aftermath of incidences of patient harm. For instance following an incident of patient harm, there may be issues regarding responsibility and guilt or unease and blame which may cause further ramifications down the line but can be avoided with effective management of medical errors.
Vincent and his colleagues conclude by arguing that this sample of suggestions for how health psychology can contribute to better healthcare in general need to be applied on a wider more structured basis than what is currently occurring. What this article highlights is the potential that psychology has in general for informing and augmenting practice in other areas of care and working that are distinct to its own. In each of the aforementioned suggestions, much of the information is already out there but has yet to be delineated into effective training and intervention programmes. Research and practice of psychology is yielding rich and practical information every day that can contribute to extensive benefits for healthcare and various other professional settings.
The full article can be accessed here
Ms. Niamh Allen, M.A. B.Sc.