Peer-to-peer support programs, where health professionals can discuss their experience with a PSI in a nonjudgmental environment with colleagues who can relate to what they are going through, are now seen as a potentially useful approach to helping health professionals cope with the PSI. A number of support programs are emerging in the US, and Canadian organizations are beginning to recognize that this – along with other types of support such as Employee Assistance Programs and trauma crisis teams – is an appropriate and valuable service for their staff. It is also well recognized that such programs will improve patient safety since health professionals will be in a healthier emotional state to care for their patients safely and be able to more effectively participate in PSI reviews and disclosures.
One of the first challenges many organizations confront in exploring the feasibility of such a support program is the ambiguity surrounding what type of legal protections may be available against disclosure of these communications in legal proceedings like malpractice actions or professional disciplinary hearings, or in employment or college disciplinary proceedings. With these guidelines, the Canadian Patient Safety Institute
(CPSI) endeavours to clarify the legal privilege and professional confidentiality considerations of implementing peer-to-peer support programs for health professionals who are emotionally affected by a PSI. We hope that this work will help healthcare organizations create psychologically safe support programs, assist health professionals who are seeking support to understand what is protected and what is not, enable patients to gain insight into health professionals’ experience, and encourage policy makers to consider what might need to change – including enhanced protections for these communications – to ensure health professionals are supported after a PSI.