Situational Awareness in Healthcare 

A Vital Skill for Today's Healthcare Professional

Since its introduction by the US Air Force over 40 years ago, Situational Awareness has been studied and applied in military, civil, commercial and aerospace applications with great success. And because Situational Awareness can help decrease the likelihood that medical errors will reach the patient, it is currently being taught in medical team training sessions world-wide to help improve patient safety.

Put simply, Situational Awareness is knowing what is going on, why it is happening and what is likely to happen next. It’s the "big picture" and it enables us to recognize events around us, act correctly when things go as planned and react appropriately when they don’t.

Situational Awareness in healthcare is most often associated with complex tasks and dynamic procedures, but can be applied to everyday jobs in healthcare from administration to nursing to the most complicated and critical acute care settings.

Again, simply stated, Situational Awareness is knowing what is going on around you during a task so that you can figure out what to do and not be surprised in the process.

Situational Awareness in Healthcare: A Vital Skill for Reducing Medical Errors Today's Healthcare Professional

Situational Awareness: A Vital Skill for Today's Healthcare Professional

This 15-minute DVD is a perfect training and educational resource. It presents an overview of what situational awareness in healthcare and how healthcare professionals can practice and maintain this important patient safety skill to assist in reducing medical errors.

Click here to download an order form.

Situational Awareness in healthcare is a team responsibility. It can’t be achieved or maintained by just one person. Each member of the team must be empowered to speak up and participate in a “SEE IT - SAY IT - FIX IT” approach. When medical errors occur it is often found that the assertion piece has been avoided or substituted with what is called hinting and hoping. In other words, someone knew there was a problem, but didn’t speak up.

Effective team-based situational awareness in healthcare depends on team members sharing a common knowledge base. In other words, all the actors are working from the same script and share an understanding of the mission and goals to be accomplished.

Using a “shared mental model” allows team members to:

  • Anticipate the needs of other team members
  • Predict the needs of other team members
  • Adapt to task demands and changes effectively

Avoiding the loss of Situational Awareness in Healthcare

A fundamental concept of Situational Awareness in Healthcare is the “Red Flag.” A Red Flag indicates the loss of situational awareness and generally means that something is going wrong. All team members should be alert to and watch for red flags.

Some common red flags include:

  • Feeling confused
  • A gut feeling that something is wrong
  • No one is watching or looking for hazards
  • Using improper procedures
  • Departing from established regulations
  • Failing to meet planned targets
  • Unresolved discrepancies;
  • Ambiguity;
  • Fixation or preoccupation

Red Flags tell us when Situational Awareness in healthcare has been lost or is being degraded. You can also think of red flags as internal or external stimuli that can degrade situational awareness.


Contact Safer Healthcare

We welcome your questions and inquiries about Situational Awareness in healthcare programs and all of our other programs, products and services.

Contact Safer Healthcare's team of Crew Resource Management experts to learn how we can help your organization increase levels of patient safety and improve the quality of safe and reliable care while maximizing profitability.