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This Primer provides an overview of the history and current status of the patient safety field and key definitions and concepts. It links to other Patient Safety Primers that discuss the concepts in more detail.
Dinsdale E, Hannigan A, O'Connor R, et al. Fam Pract. 2019.
Clear communication between primary care physicians and the providers to whom they refer patients has important implications for achieving accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment plans for patients. In this observational study, researchers included 6603 patients from 68 general medical practices in Ireland, randomly selecting 100 patients from each practice and excluding patients without complete records. They analyzed referral documentation and responses received from subspecialists as well as discharge summaries from hospitalizations over a 2-year period, compared with established national standards. Although 82% of referral letters included current medications, only 30% of response letters and discharge summaries contained medication changes and 33% had medication lists. The authors conclude that significant communication gaps exist between primary and secondary care and that further research is needed to understand how to address them. A past PSNet perspective discussed challenges associated with care transitions.
Rockville, MD: Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality; September 2016. AHRQ Publication No. 16-0035-2-EF.
Patient safety in ambulatory care is receiving increased attention. This guide includes case studies that explore how Open Notes, team-based care delivery, and patient and family advisory committees have shown promise as patient engagement and safety improvement mechanisms in primary care settings.
Jackson PD, Biggins MS, Cowan L, et al. Rehabil Nurs. 2016;41:135-48.
Transitions are a complicated and vulnerable time for patients, particularly for those with complex care needs. This review examines the literature around care transitions and insights from patient and family advisory councils. The authors recommend standardizing the process for veterans with complex conditions and suggest focus on the use of real-time information exchange, documented care plans, and engaging patients and their families in transitions.
Sokol PE, Wynia MK; AMA Expert Panel on Care Transitions. Chicago, IL: American Medical Association; February 2013.
This report proposes five responsibilities for ambulatory care practices to ensure safe care transitions and describes principles to guide staff in performing these tasks.
Following hospitalization for community-acquired pneumonia, an elderly man with a history of dementia, falls, and atrial fibrillation is discharged on antibiotics but no changes to his anticoagulation medication. One week later, the patient’s INR was dangerously high.
At two different hospitals, patients were instructed to continue home medications, even though their medication lists had errors that could have led to significant adverse consequences.
Grossman E, Phillips RS, Weingart SN. J Patient Saf. 2010;6:172-179.
Tests pending after hospital discharge or following a clinic visit continue to challenge most health care systems. This study implemented a paper-based system to follow up abnormal mammograms and monitored provider responses to those reminders. Based on a report of abnormal mammograms generated by the radiology department, a practice administrator sent a letter to each provider with a copy of the report and a set of questions on behalf of their quality improvement committee. More than 90% of providers responded to the fail-safe reminders, 8% were unaware of the abnormal test, and there was no follow-up plan in place for 3% of cases. Less experienced providers were more likely to be unaware of abnormal mammograms and many lapses were noted in the context of care transitions. The authors conclude that their paper-based system is feasible and valuable but requires full engagement of providers in the process.
Casalino LP, Dunham D, Chin MH, et al. Arch Intern Med. 2009;169:1123-9.
Failure to adequately follow up on test results is a known problem after hospital discharge, in primary care settings, and within computerized systems. This study reviewed more than 5400 patient medical records from 19 community-based and 4 academic primary care practices and discovered a 7.1% rate of failure to inform (or document informing). Interestingly, investigators found that partial electronic health records (EHRs), with a mix of paper and electronic systems, were associated with higher failure rates than those practices without an EHR or with a complete EHR. Variations in failure rates among practices, ranging from 0% to 26%, suggest that best practices can make a significant difference. A past AHRQ WebM&M commentary discussed the impact of delayed notification for a test result following hospital discharge.
Lesselroth B, Adams S, Felder R, et al. Jt Comm J Qual Patient Saf. 2009;35:264-70.
This study used an innovative approach to involving patients in safety efforts by using an interactive kiosk paired with the medication list from the electronic health record. When patients presented for a clinic visit, the kiosk presented their presumed medication list along with pill pictures, and patients had to indicate if they were taking the medication. This method successfully identified medication discrepancies and reduced the time spent by staff in reviewing medications. Ensuring medication reconciliation in ambulatory care has been particularly problematic for patients with low health literacy. This novel strategy may represent an effective, patient-centered approach to this problem.
Snow V, Beck D, Budnitz T, et al. J Gen Intern Med. 2009;24:971-976.
This policy statement describes ten principles developed to address quality gaps in transitions of care between inpatient and outpatient settings. Recommendations include coordinating clinicians, having a transition record, standardizing communication formats, and using evidence-based metrics to monitor outcomes.
Dean Schillinger, MD, is a Professor of Medicine at University of California, San Francisco, Director of the UCSF Center for Vulnerable Populations, and Chief of the California Diabetes Prevention and Control Program. His role as a practicing clinician at a safety net hospital (San Francisco General Hospital) has put him in a unique position to pursue influential and relevant research related to health literacy and improving care for vulnerable populations.
An elderly, non–English-speaking man with diabetes was admitted to the hospital twice in 8 days due to hypoglycemia. At discharge, the patient was instructed not to take any antidiabetic medications. In between hospitalizations, he saw his primary care physician, who restarted an antidiabetic medication.
After several pediatric visits, parents of a newborn with low output and weight loss contact a lactation consultant, who discovered that ankyloglossia (tongue-tie) was preventing the infant from receiving adequate intake from breastfeeding.