Patient Safety Awareness Week: Communicating After a Harm Event

March 14, 2022

In recognition of Patient Safety Awareness Week, March 13-19, Constellation would like to salute and thank all the health care teams who work so tirelessly to provide safe care during these very difficult times.

Communicating after a harm event

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, many health care organizations faced staffing shortages. These shortages have become severe, exacerbated by clinician illness and quarantine. This added burden has increased the stress and burnout already experienced by health care professionals and has stretched organizations to their limit to provide safe care in their communities.

Infection control procedures, restricted visitation policies and mask-wearing during the COVID-19 pandemic have made communication with patients and their families more difficult.

With limited staff and resources, how do you communicate that you and your team are working hard to keep people safe while in your care?

How do you communicate that staffing and resource shortages require the canceling of non-emergent surgeries, the rescheduling of cancer screenings or the delay of specialty appointments?

How do you empathetically communicate when something goes wrong despite your team’s best efforts?

Implementing a Communication Go Team

We know that mistakes and harm events happen in the course of providing health care. It’s certainly not intended. Staffing shortages and the stress of COVID-19 may further impact care team performance. We also know that when things go wrong, emotions are high and easy answers are scarce.

“How care teams react in the first crucial moments after care problems or harm events determines whether we preserve trust, communicate, learn and improve. After a harm event, patients and senior living residents and their families need immediate, accurate and empathetic communication.”

Carolyn Anctil, MD, FACEP, Constellation Chief Medical Advisor

A Communication Go Team is a trained, internal team who is ready at a moment’s notice to initiate communication following a problem with care or harm event. The goal is a coordinated, immediate, accurate and compassionate response to the harm event. Ensure your Communication Go Team can be alerted of harm events 24/7 and is empowered to call together key individuals for initial communication within a set goal time. Be sure to include involved clinician(s) whenever possible. Train your team using Constellation’s tools, webinars and best practices for communicating effectively, showing empathy and using de-escalation techniques.

Sign in to to access the HEAL Prepare Toolkit Unit 3: Communicating After Harm Events found in Risk Resources. This Toolkit includes best practices and tools for establishing a Communication Go Team.

Early reporting of harm events

At Constellation, we believe there’s a better way to navigate an unexpected outcome or harm event, a way that creates a path to healing for everyone involved. That’s why we created HEAL, a program focused on acting promptly and effectively after a harm event occurs, to both shorten the life cycle of the event and to reduce the sequence of negative impacts it may cause.

When a harm event occurs, reporting it to Constellation immediately allows us to introduce HEAL’s core services sooner and get care teams the support they need. It’s our goal to achieve meaningful resolution long before any pressure builds. HEAL accelerates evaluation of the standard of care, provides communication assistance, ensures clinicians and care teams are supported, and identifies strategies to avoid risk in the future. It’s a better path forward for all involved.

To report an event and access services:

  • Report an Incident/Claim online at as soon as possible
  • If needed, get coaching from Constellation’s risk mitigation and claim teams regarding best practices for communicating after a harm event
  • Discuss with Constellation whether the event is appropriate for the HEAL program and an early evaluation of standard of care

At Constellation, we believe that what’s good for care teams is good for business. Supporting physicians—and their patients and senior living residents—through early reporting of harm events is just one of the many ways that we deliver on our purpose. Learn more about Constellation at

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