Healthcare seems to be always in the news, whether it's costs and copays rising faster than incomes, or insurance requirements, or concerns about access to primary care, or reports of quality of care concerns, or ads for the latest drugs. It touches everyone, sooner or later.
Healthcare already accounts for 18% of the U.S. economy, with changes both politically and economically contentious. Add to that the implications of governments being the largest –and getting larger – purchasers of health care services for an aging population and newly insured individuals, and the pressures on the healthcare industry to increase quality of care and reduce costs are unrelenting. With cost pressures comes the potential for adverse impacts on a healthcare workforce exposed to both common and exotic hazards.12
Health care employs more workers than any other sector of the economy tracked by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). The federal BLS May 2013 Occupational Employment Statistics survey found 2.3 million registered nurses, averaging 50 years old, about 71% of whom were employed by hospitals. There were 1.3 million nursing assistants, about 62 percent of whom were employed by nursing homes and other residential care facilities.34 The total US healthcare workforce, including physicians, nurse practitioners, physicians assistants, coding and financial support workers, and innumerable other support workers was estimated to be over 17 million workers, with an additional 5 million jobs to be added by 2022 - with up to 25% of the workers aged 55 or older.
Ironically, despite being in health business, the healthcare industry's safety performance has consistently lagged far behind the US industry average.
Despite the obvious toll, both human and financial, agencies and payers have historically paid little attention to the health and safety issues of health care workers. Safety professionals have much to offer by applying well-tested tools and methods to improve safety performance - and it is in their personal interest to do so. This paper seeks to describe some of the challenges that may confront safety professionals in the health care environment, and presents some of opportunities open to health and safety professionals to make health care safer and better for everyone.