Mobilising knowledge about safety to patients using smartphone technology: empowering patients to enhance safety in surgical care

South LondonGeneric Health Relevance
Start Date: 1 Jun 2017 End Date: 31 May 2020

Using smartphone technology to enhance patient safety in surgical care

Research suggests that around one in ten patients entering NHS hospitals will experiencean unintended error (termed an ‘adverse event’) in their care [1-2]. These events can resultin harm and have catastrophic implications, not only for the patient and their family, butfor the healthcare staff involved and for the NHS organisation as a whole (at both areputational and financial level). 

Adverse event rates are higher for surgery than other healthcare specialties [1]. This may be a reflection of the risk profile of the patients receiving surgery; the complexity of the procedure and/or the operating theatre environemnt; or simply higher rates of reporting errors by surgical staff. Either way, improving surgical safety is a priority for NHS England. 

As a result, numerous tools have been introduced to surgical settings to help staff make fewer errors, ranging from safety checklists similar to those used on aeroplanes, to electronic devices for counting swabs. However, being at the centre of their care, patients and their families can also help to improve safety if they are appropriately informed of the potential risks. 

How can patients help improve surgical safety?

This research project aims to explore how we can effectively translate what the evidence tells us about the causes of error in surgery into a format that patients can use to improve their safety. Specifically, the project looks at the use of smartphone apps to address this problem. An app, called MySurgery, has been designed to help patients and their carers understand the risks associated with having surgery and inform them of the specific actions they can take to improve their safety and recovery. This app will be used as a case-study to explore the following research questions:

  • Do service users and service providers feel that patients can and should play a role in improving safety in hospital settings?
  • Do patients and doctors support the use of smartphone apps for communicating information about safety?
  • What design features should be built into such apps to make them more user-friendly?
  • How is the MySurgery app likely to affect doctors’ and patients’ behaviour andthe doctor/patient relationship?
  • If recommended, how can we raise awareness about such apps so that theiruptake is increased?6. How can we ensure this knowledge is accessible to all patients, not just those who use smartphones.  

Patient and public involvement (PPI)

Patients and the public are involved in the project from research design through to dissemination. The initial research proposal was reviewed by patient/public volunteers prior to submitting the bid for research funding. Now that funding has been secured, patients and public will feed into strategic decision making and practical elements of the research (the design of research materials and tools, data analysis, writing of reports) via attendance at focus groups and project steering groups
This project is funded through an NIHR Knowledge Mobilisation Fellowship. It was adopted by CLAHRC South London in September 2017 and will be completed in May 2020.

Dr Stephanie Russ