Organisational communication as trespass: a patient safety perspective

Publication Type:
Journal Article
Journal of Health Organization and Management, 2019, 33 (7-8), pp. 835 - 848
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© 2019, Emerald Publishing Limited. Purpose: Significant, sustained improvement in patient safety has proved an intractable goal. Attempts to address persistent problems have largely focused on technical solutions to issues conceptualised as clinical, cultural or system based. While communication is at the core of many remediation strategies, the focus has remained largely on communication between clinicians or between clinicians and patients, and on creating centralised guidelines as communicative mechanisms to transmit approved practice. Yet, current attempts at improvement have had limited impact. The purpose of this paper is to highlight vital new ways of conceptualising and exploring the relations and actions that are meant to constitute safety within organisations. Design/methodology/approach: Utilising theory from social sciences, the authors reconceptualise trespass and transgression, traditionally positioned as infringements, as acts of resistance: mechanisms for intrusion which intentionally or unintentionally disrupt the territorial claims of professions and organisations to enhance patient safety. Findings: Drawing on the literature, research and professional experience, two forms of trespass are discussed: the intrusion of largely invisible and understudied ancillary staff into the world of clinicians; and the use of workarounds by clinicians themselves. In both cases, transgressors intend to increase rather than decrease patient safety and may, upon further examination, prove to do so. Originality/value: Trespasses and transgressions considered in this light offer the opportunity to make visible people, relationships and actions which have previously remained hidden in our understanding of, and therefore proposed solutions to, patient safety.
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