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  • WHO: Global patient safety report 2024 (30 May 2024)

    Mark Hughes
    Article information
    • Switzerland
    • Reports and articles
    • Pre-existing
    • Original author
    • No
    • World Health Organization (WHO)
    • 30/05/24
    • Everyone


    The first ever World Health Organization (WHO) global report on patient safety aims to provide a foundational understanding of the current state of patient safety across the world, aligned with the Global Patient Safety Action Plan 2021-2030. It contains insights and information beneficial to health care professionals, policy-makers, patients and patient safety advocates, researchers – essentially anyone involved or interested in the improvement of health care and patient safety globally.


    In this report, the WHO initially sets out the burden of harm to patients, noting the following key messages:

    • Unsafe care is a significant global public health issue, with more than one in ten patients experiencing harm in medical care settings – half of which could be preventable – leading to millions of deaths and substantial economic costs annually.
    • The burden of unsafe care disproportionately affects low- and middle-income countries, where the majority of patient harm and associated deaths occur.
    • Vulnerable populations, including older adults, children and ethnic minorities, face higher risks of patient harm, highlighting the importance of tailored interventions for safety of these groups within health care systems.
    • Globally, 1 in 20 patients suffer from preventable medication harm, highlighting a significant challenge across health care systems. Specifically, over half (53%) of this harm arises at the prescribing stage, pointing to a crucial need for improving medication safety practices.
    • Highly specialized care settings, such as intensive care, emergency and surgical units, are associated with the highest rates of patient harm, including both overall harm and preventable harm. In primary care, an estimated 7% of patients experience harm.

    It also summarises the financial and economic burden of unsafe care, noting the following key messages:

    • Unsafe care significantly burdens health care budgets, consuming up to 12.6% of total health expenditure in high-income countries, translating into approximately $878 billion annually.
    • Patient harm’s financial impact varies by setting: in acute care, complications inflate costs; in primary care, adverse drug events and misdiagnoses lead to unnecessary hospital use; and in long-term care, conditions such as pressure ulcers add significant expenses, showing the broad economic effects of unsafe care.
    • Patient harm significantly reduces productivity and increases income loss, imposing indirect costs on economies that can surpass direct health care costs. Improving patient safety could have profound economic benefits, potentially increasing global economic output by 15% over two decades.
    • The global willingness to invest in preventing patient harm, potentially averting US$1.17 trillion annually in costs, underscores the strong rationale for health care systems to prioritize patient safety.
    • Effective patient safety interventions, such as the WHO Surgical Safety Checklist and strategies to prevent healthcare-associated infections (HCAIs), offer high returns on investment, demonstrating that targeted efforts to improve care safety are not only medically beneficial but also economically wise.

    The report then takes a global overview of patient safety initiatives and progress made around the world, looking at this against each of the strategic objectives set out in the Global Patient Safety Action Plan:

    1. Policies to eliminate avoidable harm in health care
    2. High-reliability systems
    3. Safety of clinical processes
    4. Patient and family engagement
    5. Health worker education, skills and safety
    6. Information, research and risk management
    7. Synergy, partnerships and solidarity

    The infographic below provides a high level summary of progress made against core indicators in the Global Patient Safety Action Plan (these percentages refer only to the 108 countries that completed the corresponding survey).


    WHO: Global patient safety report 2024 (30 May 2024) https://iris.who.int/handle/10665/376928
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