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A vignette study to examine health care professionals' attitudes towards patient involvement in error prevention


Professor Dr David L. B. Schwappach, Swiss Patient Safety Foundation, Asylstr. 77, 8032 Zurich, Switzerland, E-mail:


Background  Various authorities recommend the participation of patients in promoting patient safety, but little is known about health care professionals' (HCPs') attitudes towards patients' involvement in safety-related behaviours.

Objective  To investigate how HCPs evaluate patients' behaviours and HCP responses to patient involvement in the behaviour, relative to different aspects of the patient, the involved HCP and the potential error.

Design  Cross-sectional fractional factorial survey with seven factors embedded in two error scenarios (missed hand hygiene, medication error). Each survey included two randomized vignettes that described the potential error, a patient's reaction to that error and the HCP response to the patient.

Setting  Twelve hospitals in Switzerland.

Participants  A total of 1141 HCPs (response rate 45%).

Measurements  Approval of patients' behaviour, HCP response to the patient, anticipated effects on the patient–HCP relationship, HCPs' support for being asked the question, affective response to the vignettes. Outcomes were measured on 7-point scales.

Results  Approval of patients' safety-related interventions was generally high and largely affected by patients' behaviour and correct identification of error. Anticipated effects on the patient–HCP relationship were much less positive, little correlated with approval of patients' behaviour and were mainly determined by the HCP response to intervening patients. HCPs expressed more favourable attitudes towards patients intervening about a medication error than about hand sanitation.

Conclusions  This study provides the first insights into predictors of HCPs' attitudes towards patient engagement in safety. Future research is however required to assess the generalizability of the findings into practice before training can be designed to address critical issues.