Historical and current methodologies in patient safety are based on a deficit-based model, defining safety as the absence of harm. This model is aligned with the human innate negativity bias and the general philosophy of health care: to diagnose and cure illness and to relieve suffering. While this approach has underpinned measurable progress in healthcare outcomes, a common narrative in the healthcare literature indicates that this progress is stalling or slowing. It is important to learn from and improve poor outcomes, but the deficit-based approach has some theoretical limitations.
This article from Adrian Plunkett and Emma Plunkett, discusses some of the theoretical limitations of the prevailing approach to patient safety and introduce emerging, complementary approaches in this field of practice. Safety-II and resilience engineering represent a new paradigm of safety, characterised by focusing on the entirety of work, with a system-wide lens, rather than single incidents of failure. More overtly positive approaches are available, specifically focusing on success—both outstanding success and everyday success—including exnovation, appreciative inquiry, learning from excellence and positive deviance. These approaches are not mutually exclusive. The new methods described in this article are not intended as replacements of the current methods, rather they are presented as complementary tools, designed to allow the reader to take a balanced and holistic view of patient safety.