Fundamental Concepts in Patient Safety

Juan A. Sanchez, MD


The nature of cardiothoracic surgery can pose risks of serious medical errors and harm to patients. The cognitive demands and task complexity of this field result in an unforgiving environment where even small, seemingly insignificant lapses and deviations can escalate to catastrophic failures. Understanding how accidents and human error can jeopardize patients in this environment is essential to becoming a competent and capable leader of a cardiothoracic surgical team. High levels of emotional intelligence, situational awareness, and communication skills are critical for leading safety-focused clinical teams. Such skills do not always occur naturally, and the cardiothoracic surgeon must mindfully develop, practice, and sustain team-oriented skills to prevent adverse events and to adapt and recover when the unexpected happens. This chapter summarizes foundational concepts in patient safety and frameworks for understanding how systems, team dynamics, and communication practices create safe conditions for superior patient outcomes. It highlights behaviors and strategies surgeons must perfect to deliver effective surgical care.

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Last updated: September 11, 2023