The BC Patient Safety & Quality Council’s Quality Academy is an intensive six-month program for healthcare providers looking to acquire skills and expertise in quality and safety. One of the key benefits of the program is that students must choose a quality improvement project that can be applied to real-world healthcare settings. As such, Quality Academy is well-recognized as a practical approach for addressing patient safety issues – start with a small workable project before tackling large system-wide issues.

When Arlene Crawford, Regional Medication Safety Officer for Northern Health (NHA), set forth on choosing her Quality Academy project this past March, she looked no further than NHA’s BC PSLS data to look for trends and areas for improvement specific to medication safety.

“I review and analyze all medication safety events in the North, so I have a really good picture of the types of events we’re seeing most often in NHA. That’s why I decided to focus my Quality Academy project on narcotic medication administration.”

Arlene says, “There’s a lot of misunderstanding out there about narcotics. I knew Quality Academy would be the perfect opportunity to learn more about the problem and work with NHA staff to reduce these types of errors.”

Through her Quality Academy project work, and in collaboration with Kirsten Thomson, Regional Manager, Risk Management and BC PSLS Coordinator, Arlene is developing a medication safety “roadshow” with a focus on teaching nurses about narcotics. By applying Plan-Do-Study-Act (PDSA) strategies, Arlene and her team will begin with two sites – one acute care hospital and one residential facility – to speak with staff about the critical nature of narcotic medication administration.

“The confusion about narcotics is not unique to Northern Health, we’re not alone,” Arlene says. “I believe it’s the everyday situations that contribute to the confusion and it’s multifactorial – busy hospital wards, time constraints on staff and the need for better education – all of this plays a role and makes narcotics one of the most misunderstood medications out there. If NHA can learn how to educate staff about this and reduce narcotics errors, I know others struggling with this problem can too.”

Arlene says that’s why nursing education is so important – from basic nursing school training to advanced medical care. But, it’s not just about telling nurses what to do. She says it’s about engaging nurses in the learning process, fostering their development and offering guidance along the way.

“I want to hear their ideas and talk as a group…how can we improve medication safety, how can we reduce errors with narcotics and how can we keep our patients safe?

“It’s my job to work with staff and have them participate. If a medication error happens once it can happen again. That’s why we need to help each other and learn together. Hopefully, through this training, we’ll see a decrease in medication errors in NHA, and I believe we will.”

Congratulations to Arlene, Kirsten and the rest of the team at NHA for kicking off this important initiative. We’ll share more blog updates as their medication safety roadshow spreads across NHA.

Arlene Crawford is Regional Medication Safety Officer for Northern Health. She is responsible for reviewing, analyzing and trending all medication-related events reported in BC PSLS. She reports regularly to the Regional Medication Safety & Quality Committee.

For more information about her Quality Academy project and the work she and her colleagues are doing to reduce medication events in Northern Health, please contact her by email at

Additional resources:

Accreditation Canada Required Organizational Practices Handbook 2014

Accreditation Canada

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