Social scientists and patient safety: critics or contributors?
Patient safety has been high on the national and international agenda in healthcare for almost a decade. It is proving to be a tough problem; tough in cultural, technical, clinical, and psychological terms and because of its massive scale and heterogeneity. While many of the challenges and problems of patient safety are social and organisational, few social scientists are involved in patient safety. Clinicians and clinical researchers are for the most part open to other perspectives, but that they may not fully appreciate the potential contribution of the social sciences. Social scientists can, for instance, assist in drawing attention to the need to take an account of the social and cultural context of patient safety interventions, by drawing on narratives and stories to illuminate organisational processes and by encouraging greater use of ethnographic and observational research. However, if social scientists are to have a real impact they need to do more than simply offer critiques of patient safety and move to active engagement with clinicians and patient safety researchers.