How effective are incident reporting systems for improving patient safety? A systematic literature review

Stavropoulou, C., Doherty, C. & Tosey, P. (2015). How effective are incident reporting systems for improving patient safety? A systematic literature review. Milbank Quarterly, 93(4), pp. 826-866. doi: 10.1111/1468-0009.12166

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Abstract

Context: Incident reporting systems (IRSs) are used to gather information on patient safety incidents. However, and despite the financial burden they imply, little is known about their effectiveness. This paper reviews systematically the effectiveness of IRSs as a method of improving patient safety through organizational learning.

Method: This systematic literature review identified two groups of studies: a) studies comparing the effectiveness of IRSs relative to other methods of error reporting and b) studies examining the effectiveness of IRSs on settings, structures and outcomes in respect of improvements to patient safety. We used thematic analysis to compare the effectiveness of IRSs with other methods and to synthesize what was effective, where and why. Then, to assess the evidence concerning the ability of IRSs to facilitate organizational learning, we analyzed studies using the concepts of single loop and double loop learning.

Findings: In total, 43 studies were identified. Eight studies compared IRSs with other methods, while 35 explored the effectiveness of IRSs on settings, structures and outcomes. We did not find strong evidence that IRSs perform better than other methods. We found some evidence of single loop learning, that is, changes to clinical settings or processes as a consequence of learning from IRSs, but little evidence either of improvements to outcomes or of changes to latent managerial factors involved in error production. In addition, there was insubstantial evidence of IRSs enabling double loop learning that is, cultural change or change of mindset.

Conclusions: The results indicate IRSs could be more effective if there were explicit criteria for what counts as an incident; they are owned and led by clinical teams rather than centralized hospital departments; and embedded within organizations as part of wider safety programs.

Item Type: Article
Additional Information: This is the peer reviewed version of the following article: Stavropoulou, C, Doherty, C & Tosey, P How effective are incident reporting systems for improving patient safety? A systematic literature review. Milbank Quarterly, which is to be published in final form at http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/1468-0009.12166/abstract. This article may be used for non-commercial purposes in accordance with Wiley Terms and Conditions for Self-Archiving.
Uncontrolled Keywords: Patient safety, Incident reporting systems, organizational learning, single loop learning, double loop learning
Subjects: R Medicine > RT Nursing
Divisions: School of Health Sciences > Healthcare Research Unit
URI: http://openaccess.city.ac.uk/id/eprint/12028

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