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Understanding harm

How harm occurs

Reasons for harm

Male physician speaking with female patientDespite the dedication, training, and professionalism of healthcare providers, a patient's outcome may not be what was originally desired or anticipated.

"Harm" is an outcome with a negative effect on a patient's health or quality of life, or both  [REF]
Canadian Patient Safety Institute, Disclosure Working Group. Canadian Disclosure Guidelines, 2008.

Harm to a patient may result from:
  • worsening of a medical condition (disease, disorder, or injury)
  • healthcare delivery
    • the inherent risk of an investigation or treatment
    • system failure
    • issues in the performance of an individual provider
  • a combination of both of the above
Changes in a patient's condition most often reflect the progression of the underlying disease.

Different terminologies are used within Canada to refer to the reasons for unintended harm from healthcare delivery. Various terms may be used by healthcare organizations to describe similar types of clinical events, while the provinces and territories use different terms in their laws.

This guide describes 3 terminology conventions commonly used in Canada: