Sensemaking and the co-production of safety: a qualitative study of primary medical care patients

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This study explores the ways in which patients make sense of ‘safety’ in the context of primary medical care. Drawing on qualitative interviews with primary care patients, we reveal patients’ conceptualisation of safety as fluid, contingent, multi-dimensional, and negotiated. Participant accounts drew attention to a largely invisible and inaccessible (but taken for granted) architecture of safety, the importance of psycho-social as well as physical dimensions and the interactions between them, informal strategies for negotiating safety, and the moral dimension of safety. Participants reported being proactive in taking action to protect themselves from potential harm. The somewhat routinised and predictable nature of the primary medical care consultation, which is very different from ‘one off’ inpatient spells, meant that patients were not passive recipients of care. Instead they had a stock of accumulated knowledge and experience to inform their actions. In addition to highlighting the differences and similarities between hospital and primary care settings, the study suggests that a broad conceptualisation of patient safety is required, which encompasses the safety concerns of patients in primary care settings.

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