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  • Patient Safety Spotlight interview with Soojin Jun, Co-founder of Patients for Patient Safety US

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    • USA
    • Interviews and reflections
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    This is part of our series of Patient Safety Spotlight interviews, where we talk to people working for patient safety about their role and what motivates them. Soojin talks to us about how her personal experience of harm motivated her to work in healthcare and campaign for patient safety, the power of collaboration in improving healthcare safety and how healthcare workers can take steps to improve their own patient interactions.

    About the Author

    Soojin Jun is a board-certified geriatric pharmacist in Illinois and Wisconsin. She is also a certified professional in patient safety (CPPS) and healthcare quality (CPHQ). After losing her dad to many gaps in healthcare as a minority caregiver, one of them a medication adverse event, she changed her career from a videographer to a pharmacist.

    Questions & Answers

    Hello Soojin. Please can you tell us who you are and what you do?

    My name is Soojin and I’m one of the founders of Patients for Patient Safety US (PFPS US), a group of activists who advocate for patient safety in healthcare organisations in the US. We urge leaders and organisations to back the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Global Patient Safety Action Plan 2021-2030. Patient safety is my passion and my purpose, and I’m also a full time population health pharmacist. I work primarily with the geriatric population to identify gaps in care and develop preventative care models.

    How did you first become interested in patient safety?

    In 2006 my father was diagnosed with stage 3 oesophageal cancer. In the US, healthcare is very dependent on the kind of insurance you have and because my dad was a foreigner he only had emergency insurance. As a result, there were many gaps in his care.

    As a carer, it is very hard to watch a loved one suffering with oesophageal cancer; many patients can’t eat, so they lose weight and are therefore unable to have surgery. We were very distressed that my father wasn’t getting better and decided to seek treatment in his home country of South Korea. Then a week before we were due to travel, my father died. He didn’t die because of his cancer, but rather from multiple adverse medication events which contributed to his early death.

    The experience changed my life. I was a wedding videographer at the time and had been contemplating a career change—I decided on pharmacy because of what my dad had experienced. I naturally became very focused on patient safety right from the beginning of my pharmacy training. Now, in my roles as an activist and a pharmacist I think a lot about how we can learn things from other fields and apply them to healthcare to make it safer.

    Which part of your role do you find the most fulfilling?

    All of the founders at PFPS US have experienced medical harm, either directly or indirectly, so even without knowing the details of each others’ stories, we have a shared understanding and naturally gravitate towards each other. I really enjoy working with like minded people and being able to have an impact on a large scale. I see so many patients suffering because of our healthcare system not being well coordinated, so it's great that we can have a bigger impact by working together.

    Many of the founders have campaigned for patient safety for decades so they already have connections with a lot of leaders in government, nonprofits and healthcare systems. I have been surprised at how quickly our group is able to connect with significant leaders and make meetings happen! It’s really exciting as it means we are able to move things forward with some momentum. Because PFPS’s committees and champions are well known, we have a strong influence.

    In recent years, we have seen more willingness from the larger organisations to focus on patient engagement and actually listen to what patients need. It’s also rewarding that organisations in other parts of the world are interested in our movement and want to apply some of our ideas to their own patient safety work.

    What patient safety challenges does the health system face at the moment?

    Patient safety is a really broad term, so prioritising what’s important is a challenge. In some senses, everything is important—the healthcare environment, psychological safety, getting policy right, looking at the perspectives of staff and patients. What needs to be done is absolutely huge, but we have to take baby steps and start somewhere. That’s why at PFPS US we decided to divide into committees that engage with specific issues. The approach honours the importance of each area and allows us to really focus on the details. 

    What do you think the next few years hold for patient safety?

    Our focus as PFPS US is to make patient safety every organisation’s priority. It has to be the number one goal—the north star for any healthcare system. Often organisations focus on outcomes and data, but that can sometimes be a distraction from achieving true patient safety. I’m not saying it’s bad to have that information, but it doesn’t always give an accurate picture of what’s really going on and what needs to change. The broadness of the field of patient safety means that organisations can use different terminology and the focus can shift away from keeping patients safe. We must make sure organisations don’t lose their focus on patient safety and that’s our priority for the next few years.

    If you could change one thing in the healthcare system right now to improve patient safety, what would it be?

    I recently gave a presentation about my experiences for a WHO webinar and I drilled this question down to two questions both patients and healthcare professionals should ask in any healthcare interaction:

    1. Is there health in this interaction?
    2. Is there care in this interaction?

    If the answer to either of those is “no,” it’s time for action, whether that be speaking up about mistreatment or bullying, asking for a better environment to be able to care for patients properly, asking for implementation change in digital health or asking for a channel for patient engagement and feedback. 

    These two questions aim to empower anyone in a healthcare setting and they can be applied to every single interaction, whether it’s provider to patient, clinician to patient or digital portal to patient. It’s a simple idea, and hopefully one that people can remember because it’s built around the word ‘healthcare’, reminding us of its primary purpose.

    It's important to help people assess the work they do and speak up for change when they see an issue. Healthcare can be a very difficult field to work in for people who are truly empathetic—you absorb a lot of patient suffering and being unable to provide patients with a really caring environment or service can be distressing. As time passes, we can forget to examine how we are working, but it’s so important to look at our interactions and make sure they align with the core purpose of healthcare.

    These are also important questions to be considering as we move towards digital health; how do you care in the binary environment of an app? How can we make sure those interactions are actually happening?

    Are there things that you do outside of your role which have made you think differently about patient safety?

    I’m an artist and am part of an art movement called The Walking Gallery of Healthcare started by a patient activist called Regina Holliday, who experienced a lot of gaps in care while looking after her husband. She started painting different patient stories onto the back of suit jackets. There are now around 400 of us with jackets all over the world and when Regina does a painting for someone, they have to sign a contract agreeing to wear it to conferences. The idea is that it starts conversations, becoming a medium to talk about harm in healthcare. 

    Regina painted my father’s story on a jacket and I loved the idea so much that I painted my own. Mine is called ‘No mud, no lotus - journey to zero harm’ and features an image of the lotus flower, which symbolises the journey towards patient safety. The seed of a lotus plant goes through a painstaking journey through the mud to become a flower, and that's like the journey we’re on towards zero preventable harm. I painted people who have lost their lives due to harm in the mud and patient safety advocates—the loved ones of the people in the mud—on the stem of the lotus. The painting combines aspects of different people’s stories, because I believe all of our efforts are meaningful and what we give is not in vain. It also shows that the suffering our loved ones experienced is what spurs us on to move forward.


    I believe art can be used as a healing tool and that it can increase empathy and compassion, two components of healthcare that we sometimes don’t pay enough attention to. There are so many toxicities in healthcare and barriers to patients healing, anything we can do to promote a healing environment is worthwhile, and I see art as a tool to make that happen.

    Tell us one thing about yourself that might surprise us!

    When I was a pharmacy student, I met the founders of a new startup, PillPack, at a conference and nearly ended up working with them. The company organises medications into daily doses and ships them directly to patients. I ended up needing to pass on the opportunity, but PillPack quickly became very successful, is now a huge company in the US and was bought up by Amazon!

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