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Classics and Emerging Classics

To help our readers navigate the tremendous breadth of the PSNet Collection, AHRQ PSNet editors and advisors have given the designation of “Classic” to review articles, empirical studies, government and stakeholder reports, commentaries, and books of lasting importance to the patient safety field. These items have the potential to impact how providers approach care practice and are regularly referenced in the literature. More information on the selection process.


The “Emerging Classics” designation identifies those resources that may not have met the level of a “Classic” yet due to limited citation in the published literature or in the level of impact/contribution to the environment, but these are resources which our patient safety subject matter experts believe have the potential to drive change in the field.

Popular Classics

Huang SS, Septimus E, Kleinman K, et al. N Engl J Med. 2013;368.

Healthcare associated infection is a leading cause of preventable illness and death. Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) is a virulent, multi-drug resistant infection increasingly seen across healthcare settings. This pragmatic,... Read More

All Classics and Emerging Classics (867)

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Wick EC, Sehgal NL. JAMA Surg. 2018;153:948-954.
This systematic review of opioid stewardship practices following surgery identified eight intervention studies intended to reduce postsurgical opioid use. Organizational-level interventions such as changing orders in the electronic health record, demonstrated clear reductions in opioid prescribing. Clinician-facing interventions such as development and dissemination of local guidelines also led to reduced opioid prescribing. The authors emphasize the need for more high-quality evidence on opioid stewardship interventions.
Korenstein D, Chimonas S, Barrow B, et al. JAMA Intern Med. 2018;178:1401-1407.
Overuse of tests and treatments can contribute to negative consequences for patients. This commentary suggests that clarification is required to engage clinicians in reducing overuse-related harm and proposes a six-domain framework that delineates areas of concern to target improvement strategies. A previous WebM&M commentary highlighted a case in which health care overuse resulted in a patient's death.
Kale MS, Korenstein D. BMJ. 2018;362:k2820.
Overdiagnosis has emerged as a quality and safety concern due to its potential to result in financial and emotional harm for patients and their families. This review discusses factors that contribute to overdiagnosis in primary care including financial incentives and innovations in diagnostic technologies. The authors recommend increasing awareness about the negative consequences of unneeded screenings, clarifying the definition of overdiagnosis, and adjusting cultural expectations for testing and treatment as avenues for improvement.
Bohnert ASB, Guy GP, Losby JL. Ann Intern Med. 2018;169:367-375.
The opioid epidemic continues to be a pressing patient safety challenge in the United States. Many efforts have been implemented to curb opioid prescribing, such as policy initiatives and targeted feedback to individual clinicians. A major initiative was the release of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines for prescribing opioids for patients with chronic pain. These guidelines (which do not apply to patients with cancer or patients receiving palliative care) called for initially using nonopioid medications and nonpharmacologic approaches to chronic pain before using opioids, prescribing immediate-release instead of long-acting medications, and avoiding use of other sedating medications. This study examined trends in opioid prescribing rates before and after the CDC guidelines were released. Investigators found that opioid prescribing overall has decreased between 2012 and 2017, but the rate of decline increased after dissemination of the CDC guidelines. Perhaps the most notable finding is that the number of high-dose opioid prescriptions declined by nearly 50% over the study period (from 683 to 356 prescriptions per 100,000 adults). An Annual Perspective discussed the causes and potential solutions to opioid overprescribing.
Committee on Improving the Quality of Health Care Globally. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. Washington DC: National Academies Press; August 2018. ISBN: 9780309483087.
The seminal 2001 report, Crossing the Quality Chasm, assessed deficiencies in the quality of health care in the United States across six key dimensions of care: safety, effectiveness, patient-centeredness, timeliness, efficiency, and equity. Crossing the Global Quality Chasm examines the human toll of poor-quality care worldwide, with a particular focus on low- and middle-income countries. The report documents health systems rife with quality and safety problems, estimating that 134 million adverse events (resulting in 2.5 million deaths) occur in hospitals in low- and middle-income countries yearly. High levels of both underuse and overuse of care are also documented in different settings. The authors give broad recommendations for strengthening health systems worldwide using the systems approach and principles of quality improvement. In addition, the report suggests modifying the original six dimensions of quality to include accessibility, affordability, and integrity.
Ward ME, De Brún A, Beirne D, et al. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2018;15:E1182.
Change initiatives require broad-based collective design strategies to ensure the range of needs are addressed. This commentary explains how one hospital group used codesign methods to engage leadership in a teamwork and culture improvement project. The authors describe specific tools and tactics used to implement the work and summarize the value of the approach for other health care organizations.
Schnipper JL, Mixon A, Stein J, et al. BMJ Qual Saf. 2018;27:954-964.
The goal of medication reconciliation is to prevent unintended medication discrepancies at times of transitions in care, which can lead to adverse events. Implementing effective medication reconciliation interventions has proven to be challenging. In this AHRQ-funded quality improvement study, five hospitals implemented a standardized approach to admission and discharge medication reconciliation using an evidence-based toolkit with longitudinal mentorship from the study investigators. The toolkit was implemented at each study site by a pharmacist and a hospitalist with support from local leadership. The intervention did not achieve overall reduction in potentially harmful medication discrepancies compared to baseline temporal trends. However, significant differences existed between the study sites, with sites that successfully implemented the recommended interventions being more likely to achieve reductions in harmful medication discrepancies. The study highlights the difficulty inherent in implementing quality improvement interventions in real-world settings. A WebM&M commentary discussed the importance of medication reconciliation and suggested best practices.
Rodriguez-Gonzalez CG, Herranz-Alonso A, Escudero-Vilaplana V, et al. J Eval Clin Pract. 2019;25:28-35.
Pharmacy robots are now commonly used in hospitals for dispensing medications. Conducted at a Spanish hospital, this study found that use of pharmacy robots reduced medication dispensing errors and improved staff efficiency. The role of a pharmacy robot in a serious medication error is explored in a book that examined the effects of technological change on the health care system.
Redmond P, Grimes TC, McDonnell R, et al. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2018;8:CD010791.
This systematic review identified 25 randomized controlled trials of methods to improve medication reconciliation at the time of hospital discharge, most of which involved a pharmacist-mediated intervention. Overall, there was no clear evidence that medication reconciliation interventions reduced either medication discrepancies or adverse drug events. A previous commentary discussed the challenges in implementing effective medication reconciliation programs in real-world settings.
Lane MA, Newman BM, Taylor MZ, et al. J Patient Saf. 2018;14:e56-e60.
The second victim phenomenon refers to the emotional and psychological toll experienced by clinicians who are involved in an adverse event. Peer support has been shown to benefit second victims, especially if initiated promptly after an adverse event. This study describes the implementation and early effects of a second victim peer support program at an academic medical center, which involved training physicians and advanced practice providers as peer supporters. A WebM&M interview with Dr. Albert Wu discussed ways that organizations can support second victims.
Martin HA, Ciurzynski SM. Journal of emergency nursing: JEN : official publication of the Emergency Department Nurses Association. 2015;41:484-8.
Situation, Background, Assessment, Recommendation (SBAR) is a mnemonic used to structure information sharing to avoid communication failures during handoffs. This review examines the challenges and benefits associated with SBAR use and provides a comparative assessment with other standardized communication tools in the field.
Wong A, Plasek JM, Montecalvo SP, et al. Pharmacotherapy. 2018;38:822-841.
Natural language processing (NLP) can efficiently analyze large narrative data sets to identify adverse events. Exploring the application of NLP to reduce medication errors, this AHRQ-funded review describes challenges associated with using NLP to extract information from clinical sources and highlights how engaging pharmacists in developing NLP systems can improve medication safety.
Stucke RS, Kelly JL, Mathis KA, et al. JAMA Surg. 2018;153:1105-1110.
Many states are implementing prescription drug monitoring programs (PDMPs) in an attempt to curb the ongoing opioid epidemic. This single-center study examined the effect of a New Hampshire policy that mandates clinicians use a PDMP and an opioid risk assessment tool prior to prescribing opioids. No impact was found on overall opioid prescribing rates. However, a recent state-level analysis found that states who implemented a PDMP had lower opioid prescribing rates compared to states without PDMPs. A PSNet perspective discussed the factors that contributed to the opioid epidemic and proposed solutions.
Vaughn VM, Saint S, Krein SL, et al. BMJ Qual Saf. 2019;28:74-84.
The literature on effective approaches to improving quality and safety generally focuses on high reliability organizations and positive deviants—organizations or units that have achieved notable successes. This systematic review sought to characterize organizations that struggle to improve quality. The authors identified five domains that exemplify struggling organizations, including lack of a clear mission and organizational structure for improving quality and inadequate infrastructure.
Carthon MB, Hatfield L, Plover C, et al. J Nurs Care Qual. 2019;34:40-46.
This cross-sectional study found that nurses reporting a lower level of engagement also described worse patient safety in their work environment. These concerns were exacerbated when higher patient–nurse staffing ratios were present. The authors suggest that increasing nurse engagement may improve patient safety.
Gates PJ, Meyerson SA, Baysari MT, et al. Pediatrics. 2018;142:e20180805.
Pediatric medication errors remain an important focus of safety initiatives. This systematic review examined the extent of preventable patient harm from medication errors for pediatric inpatients. The 22 included studies reported incidence rates ranging from 0 to 74 preventable adverse drug events per 1000 inpatient days. Across all studies, most errors were minor and did not result in patient harm. Use of health information technology was associated with less harm. Emphasizing the challenges of detecting and reporting errors, a related editorial calls for standardizing descriptions of preventable adverse events and harm in pediatrics. A WebM&M commentary addressed the high potential for weight-based medication errors in pediatrics and provided recommendations to help mitigate this risk.
Gianfrancesco MA, Tamang S, Yazdany J, et al. JAMA Intern Med. 2018;178:1544-1547.
Machine learning, a type of computing that uses data and statistical methods to enable computers to progressively enhance their prediction or task performance over time, has been widely promoted as a tool to improve health care safety. This commentary describes the potential for machine learning to worsen socioeconomic disparities in health care. Disadvantaged populations are more likely to receive care in multiple health systems. Therefore, relevant data about their health may be missing in an individual health system's records, hindering performance of machine learning algorithms. Racial and ethnic minority patients may not be present in sufficient numbers for accurate prediction. The authors raise concern that implicit bias in the care that disadvantaged populations receive may influence algorithms, which will amplify this bias. They recommend inclusion of sociodemographic characteristics into algorithms, building and testing algorithms in diverse health care systems, and conducting follow-up testing to ensure that machine learning does not perpetuate or exacerbate health care disparities.
Bruera E. N Engl J Med. 2018;379:601-603.
Well-intentioned system-level efforts to improve care can result in unintended consequences. This commentary discusses the adverse effects of strategies to address the opioid epidemic, such as tightened regulations that led to opioid shortages. The author highlights how the shortages of certain parenteral opioids can cause patient harm and describes clinical and policy suggestions to improve the reliability of care amid efforts to manage the opioid crisis.
Millenson ML, Baldwin JL, Zipperer L, et al. Diagnosis (Berl). 2018;5:95-105.
Recently, several mobile health care applications have been developed and marketed directly to nonclinician consumers. Researchers reviewed the literature regarding direct-to-consumer diagnostic applications. They found wide variation in the safety of these applications and suggest that further research is needed to thoroughly assess their effectiveness.
Doctor JN, Nguyen A, Lev R, et al. Science (1979). 2018;361:588-590.
High-risk opioid prescribing by providers contributes to opioid misuse. Prior studies have shown that patients frequently receive opioid prescriptions even if they have a history of overdose. In this randomized trial involving 861 providers prescribing opioids to 170 patients who experienced fatal overdose, providers in the intervention arm were notified about patients' deaths by the county medical examiner while those in the control arm were not. Researchers found that milligram morphine equivalents prescribed to the patients of providers who received the death notifications decreased by almost 10% in the 3-month period following the intervention. There were no significant changes in the prescribing patterns of the control group. An Annual Perspective discussed patient safety and opioid medications.