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The focus on patient safety in the ambulatory setting was impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic and appropriately shifting priorities to responding to the pandemic. This piece explores some of the core themes of patient safety in the ambulatory setting, including diagnostic safety and diagnostic errors. Ways to enhance patient safety in the ambulatory care setting and next steps in ambulatory care safety are addressed. 

Watson J, Salisbury C, Whiting PF, et al. Br J Gen Pract. 2022;Epub Jun 6.
Failure to communicate blood test results to patients may result in delayed diagnosis or treatment. In this study, UK primary care patients and general practitioners (GPs) were asked about their experiences with the communication of blood test results. Patients and GPs both expected the other to follow up on results and had conflicting experiences with the method of communication (e.g., phone call, text message).
Meyer AND, Scott TMT, Singh H. JAMA Netw Open. 2022;5:e228568.
Delayed communication of abnormal test results can contribute to diagnostic and treatment delays, patient harm, and malpractice claims. The Department of Veterans Affairs specifies abnormal test results be communicated to the patient within seven days if treatment is required, and within 14 days if no treatment is required. In the first full year of the program, 71% of abnormal test results and 80% of normal test results were communicated to the patient within the specified timeframes. Performance varied by facility and type of test.
Lacson R, Khorasani R, Fiumara K, et al. J Patient Saf. 2022;18:e522-e527.
Root cause analysis is a commonly used tool to identify systems-related factors that contributed to an adverse event. This study assessed a system-based approach, (i.e., collaborative case reviews (CCR) co-led by radiology and an institutional patient safety program) to identify contributing factors and explore the strength of recommended actions in the radiology department at a large academic medical center. Stronger action items, such as standardization of processes, were implemented in 41% of events, and radiology had higher completion rates than other hospital departments.
Rajan SS, Baldwin JL, Giardina TD, et al. J Patient Saf. 2022;18:e262-e266.
Radiofrequency identification (RFID) technology has been most commonly used in perioperative settings to improve patient safety. This study explored whether RFID technology can improve process measures in laboratory settings, such as order tracking, specimen processing, and test result communication. Findings indicate that RFID-tracked orders were more likely to have completed testing process milestones and were completed more quickly.
Nurses play a critical role in patient safety through their constant presence at the patient's bedside. However, staffing issues and suboptimal working conditions can impede a nurse’s ability to detect and prevent adverse events.

J Nurs Manag. 2020;28(8): i-iv, 1767-2275.

Incomplete nursing care is known to affect care quality and safety. This special issue documents the global problem of missed or rationed nursing care in a variety of settings and countries. Articles featured in this special issue examine systemic issues, explore interventions, and evaluate measurement tools.
Rogith D, Satterly T, Singh H, et al. Appl Clin Inform. 2020;11:692-698.
Lack of timely follow-up of test results is a recognized patient safety problem in primary care and can lead to missed or delayed diagnoses. This study used human factors methods to understand lack of timely follow-up of abnormal test results in outpatient settings. Through interviews with the ordering physicians, the researchers identified several contributing factors, such as provider-patient communication channel mismatch and diffusion of responsibility.
Desai S, Fiumara K, Kachalia A. J Patient Saf. 2021;17:e84-e90.
Outpatient safety is gaining recognition as a focus of research and improvement efforts. This project report describes an ambulatory safety program at an academic health system that targeted reporting, safety culture measurement, medication safety, and test result management. Repeated tracking over a 5-year period revealed that failure to request feedback played a role in the modest incident and concern reporting captured by the program. Decentralizing reporting response responsibilities throughout the system significantly increased feedback activity.
Mays JA, Mathias PC. J Am Med Inform Assoc. 2019;26:269-272.
Point-of-care test results are often manually transcribed into the electronic health record, which introduces risks of manual transcription errors. The authors of this study took advantage of a redundant workflow in which point-of-care blood glucose results were uploaded and also manually entered by staff. They estimate that 5 in 1000 manually entered results contain clinically significant transcription errors and call for interfacing point-to-care instruments as a patient safety strategy.
Dr. Meltzer is the Fanny L. Pritzker Professor of Medicine, Chief of the Section of Hospital Medicine, and Director of the Center for Health and the Social Sciences at the University of Chicago. His research aims to improve the quality and lower the cost of hospital care. We spoke with him about the Comprehensive Care Physician Model, which he pioneered and was recently featured in an article in The New York Times Magazine.
Ai A, Desai S, Shellman A, et al. Jt Comm J Qual Patient Saf. 2018;44:674-682.
This study examined ambulatory follow-up of test results by aggregating multiple types of data—national surveys on safety culture and patient satisfaction; patient complaints; safety reports; and electronic health record audits of provider response times. Researchers found an association between quicker response time for test results and higher patient satisfaction. They conclude that merging these disparate data sources can uncover new levers to improve patient safety.
Litchfield I, Bentham L, Lilford R, et al. BMJ Qual Saf. 2015;24:691-9.
Failure to appropriately communicate test results is a recognized safety hazard in ambulatory care. Despite more than a decade of research into this problem, this survey of 50 general practices in the United Kingdom found that 80% required patients to call to find out their test results, and a similar proportion had no fail-safe mechanism for tracking test results.
Following hospitalization for suicidality, a woman was discharged to the care of her outpatient psychiatrist, a senior resident who was about to graduate. At her last visit in June before the year-end transfer, the patient was unable to schedule a follow-up visit because the new residents' schedules were not yet in the system. The delay in care had deadly consequences.
Vaughan L, McAlister G, Bell D. Clin Med (Lond). 2011;11:322-326.
This survey of physicians about the UK equivalent of the "July effect"—a tradition of nearly 50,000 new doctors starting on the first Wednesday in August—found a high degree of concern for patient care, safety, and training. The authors conclude that there is a need for structural changes.
A healthy elderly man presented to his primary care doctor—a third-year internal medicine resident—for routine examination. A PSA test was markedly elevated, but the results came back after the resident had graduated, and the alert went unread. Months later, the patient presented with new onset low back pain and was diagnosed with metastatic prostate cancer.
Fischer SH, Tjia J, Field TS. J Am Med Inform Assoc. 2010;17:631-6.
Failure to follow up on test results has been linked to missed and delayed diagnoses in the ambulatory setting. Although electronic health records (EHR) hold great promise for addressing this issue, this systematic review found only modest published evidence linking EHR use to improved laboratory test monitoring. This finding corroborates other studies documenting persistent failure to comprehensively follow up abnormal lab tests and radiologic studies despite use of an EHR. The authors conclude that further research will be required to develop optimal test management systems within electronic medical records.
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.