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Battles J; Azam I; Grady M; Reback K; Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality; AHRQ.
This publication describes the results of demonstration projects funded by AHRQ's Patient Safety and Medical Liability Reform Initiative. Included studies examined communication and resolution programs, patient reporting of adverse events, and patient perceptions of error disclosure. An overarching theme of these studies is the gap between recommended communication practices and usual clinical care and communication. Several studies demonstrated challenges of implementing health system interventions to improve safety across a range of interventions, including error disclosure training, shared decision-making, and medication safety during transitions in care. These studies reveal the importance of measuring and improving safety culture as a foundation for patient safety efforts. Commentaries by various patient safety experts highlight the need for ongoing support for research at the intersection of patient safety and medical liability. A past PSNet perspective described how evidence-based improvements to the medical liability system could influence accountability and compensation for errors.
Shah A, Hayes CJ, Martin BC. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2017;66:265-269.
Opioid use has become a growing patient safety concern. Recent studies have documented wide variation in opioid prescribing for acute pain and a significant rate of chronic opioid use after patients receive a first prescription for an acute indication. This retrospective medical record review study identified risk factors for remaining on an opioid medication for more than 1 year following their initial prescription. Older, female, and publicly or self-insured patients were more likely to remain on an opioid compared with younger, male, and privately insured patients. Patients started on higher doses (cumulative dose ≥ 700 mg morphine equivalent), provided prescriptions with longer duration (more than 10 days), or given 3 or more prescriptions for opioids were most likely to continue to use opioid medications 1 year later. The authors recommend prescribing fewer than 7 days of opioids for acute pain and adhering to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guideline for opioid use to improve prescribing practices.
Rudd RA, Seth P, David F, et al. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2016;65:1445-1452.
Opioid medications are frequently associated with adverse drug events in inpatient and outpatient settings. This surveillance report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention demonstrated that the magnitude of patient harm from opioid use is growing rapidly. Opioid overdose deaths are increasing each year, through 2015, and current rates are the highest ever recorded. The types of opioids most commonly involved in overdose deaths are natural and semisynthetic opioids, which are often prescribed as pain relievers. The authors suggest that the adoption of new prescribing guidelines and more widespread use of the opioid reversal agent naloxone will help address this growing epidemic. An earlier version of this article included data through 2014. A previous WebM&M commentary described a fatal opioid overdose.

Shekelle PG, Sarkar U, Shojania K, et al. Technical Brief No. 27. Rockville, MD: Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality; October 2016. AHRQ Publication No. 16-EHC033-EF.

Most patient safety research and initiatives have focused on the hospital environment, despite the fact that much of health care is delivered in outpatient settings. This technical brief explores gaps in the evidence base that hinder understanding of safety concerns and factors unique to ambulatory care. The evidence review supports use of pharmacist interventions to augment medication safety in outpatient settings. The authors also found that electronic health records have mixed effects on ambulatory safety. Key informants interviewed for the brief noted that studies on patient engagement and diagnostic error are lacking.
Levinson DR. Washington, DC: US Department of Health and Human Services, Office of the Inspector General; July 2016. Report No. OEI-06-14-00110.
The Office of the Inspector General (OIG) has issued a series of reports analyzing the incidence and preventability of adverse events among Medicare beneficiaries receiving care in acute care hospitals and skilled nursing facilities. This report used similar methodology based on trigger tools to determine adverse event incidence among patients in rehabilitation hospitals—post-acute care facilities that provide intensive rehabilitation to patients recovering from hospitalization for an acute illness or injury. The study found that 29% of patients experienced an adverse event during their stay, a proportion nearly identical to rates at acute care hospitals and skilled nursing facilities. Nearly half of the events were considered preventable, with the most common types of events including pressure ulcers, delirium, and medication errors. Nearly one-fourth of patients who had an adverse event required transfer to an acute care hospital for diagnosis or management, leading to a large increase in costs of care. Based on these data, the OIG has recommended that the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality and Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services disseminate information about patient harms in the rehabilitation setting and work to improve safety at rehabilitation hospitals. A previous WebM&M commentary discussed an adverse event at a rehabilitation facility.
Rockville, MD: Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality; October 2015. AHRQ Publication No.16-0006-EF.
Hospital-acquired conditions (HACs), some of which are never events, have been an important focus of patient safety initiatives, with reporting requirements and Medicare nonpayment leading to significant efforts to prevent these conditions. This update to a prior report from AHRQ details and confirms the declining rates in HACs between 2010 and 2013. The analysis indicated that hospitalized patients experienced 1.3 million fewer HACs over the 3 years (2011–2013) than if the HAC rate had remained at the 2010 level. Consequently, the report estimates a $12 billion savings in health care costs and 50,000 fewer hospital patient deaths. These improvements coincided with nationwide efforts to reduce adverse events, such as the Partnership for Patients initiative and Medicare payment reform. The remaining burden of HACs suggests continued investment in this patient safety problem is needed.
Rockville, MD: Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality; December 2014. AHRQ Publication No. 15-0011-EF.
This report from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality provides estimates on hospital-acquired conditions (HACs)—including never events and health care–associated infections—for hospitals in the United States from 2010 to 2013. These adverse events continue to decline steadily, with an estimated 9% decrease in most recent year over year comparison. In 2013, there were 121 HACs for every 1000 hospital admissions. These improvements resulted in significant cost-savings and reduced morbidity and mortality rates. The authors attribute this change to CMS payment reform and to the Partnership for Patients initiative. Although uncertainty about the cause of these improvements remains, the lower HAC rate clearly demonstrates that efforts to reduce patient safety problems in hospitalized patients are yielding results. The substantial remaining burden of HACs argues for more investment in patient safety in hospital settings.
Fridkin S, Baggs J, Fagan R, et al. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2014;63:194-200.
Antibiotics are among the most remarkable life-saving advances of modern medicine. However, when used incorrectly these medications pose serious risks for patients due to adverse effects and the potential to cause complicated infections, including those resistant to multiple antibiotics. This national database study found that more than half of all patients discharged from a hospital in 2010 received antibiotics during their stay. Many of these antibiotics were deemed to be unnecessary, and there was wide variation seen in antibiotic usage across hospital wards. A model accounting for both direct and indirect effects of antibiotics predicted that decreasing hospitalized patients' exposure to broad-spectrum antibiotics by 30% would lead to a 26% reduction in Clostridium difficile infection. The CDC recommends that all hospitals implement antibiotic stewardship programs, and this article provides core elements to guide these efforts. An AHRQ WebM&M commentary describes inappropriate antibiotic usage that resulted in a patient death. Dr. Alison Holmes spoke about infection prevention and antimicrobial stewardship in a recent AHRQ WebM&M interview.
Shekelle PG, Wachter RM, Pronovost PJ, et al.; 2013:Evid Rep Technol Assess (Full Rep).(211):1-945.
The seminal AHRQ Making Health Care Safer report, issued in 2001, used evidence-based medicine principles to identify key patient safety practices (PSPs). Although its recommendations were somewhat controversial, the report galvanized patient safety efforts at hospitals nationwide and provided a stimulus for further rigorous research on PSPs. In doing so, the report laid the foundation for the most prominent successes of the safety field. This newly issued follow-up report combines traditional systematic review methodology with the judgments of key stakeholders and technical experts in the field. The authors critically examine the evidence supporting 41 separate PSPs and ultimately arrive at a list of 10 strongly encouraged practices. These practices, if implemented, should result in reduced harm from a wide range of safety threats, including health care–associated infections, medication errors, and pressure ulcers. The report also examines how cost, implementation, and contextual considerations may affect the real-world effectiveness of PSPs, details how foundational concepts such as human factors engineering should be incorporated into safety efforts, and provides a blueprint for future research in patient safety. Formal systematic reviews of 10 key PSPs are also being published simultaneously in a special supplement to the Annals of Internal Medicine.
Levinson DR. Washington, DC: US Department of Health and Human Services, Office of the Inspector General; November 2010. Report No. OEI-06-09-00090.
Hospitalized patients continue to suffer iatrogenic harm, according to this study of Medicare patients completed by the Office of the Inspector General (OIG). Using methodology similar to the landmark Harvard Medical Practice Study, this study found that 13.5% of hospitalized Medicare patients experienced an adverse event, of which nearly half were considered preventable. However, fewer than 2% of patients experienced either a never event or a preventable complication for which hospitals are no longer reimbursed by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. These results are similar to the OIG's prior 2008 report. Based on these results, OIG recommends further efforts to accurately measure adverse events, and also recommends broadening the "no pay for errors" policy. The challenges of accurately measuring safety problems are discussed in an AHRQ WebM&M commentary.
American College of Surgeons.
During the 1980s, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) received significant public scrutiny over the quality of surgical care in their hospitals. This motivated Congress to mandate reporting of surgical outcomes annually and led to the important National VA Surgical Risk Study (NVASRS) across 44 VA medical centers. In 1994, the success of the NVASRS study helped foster the development of a program for monitoring and improving the quality of surgical care across all VA medical centers, called the National Surgical Quality Improvement Program (NSQIP). As the program and its success grew, the private sector adopted the NSQIP, and subsequent studies have demonstrated similar benefits outside the VA system. The American College of Surgeons now operates and administers a parallel NSQIP program for the private sector.
Rockville, MD: Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality; July 2008. AHRQ Publication Nos. 080034 (1-4).
The 115 articles freely available in this latest issue of AHRQ's Advances in Patient Safety represent the state of the art in patient safety. Serving as an update and extension to the prior volume, the articles are grouped into four major content areas—assessment, culture and redesign, performance and tools, and technology and medication safety—and are freely available online through the link below.
World Health Organization.
This initiative provides a surgical safety checklist and related educational and training materials building on the Second Global Patient Safety Challenge vision to encourage international adoption of a core set of safety standards. Implementation of this World Health Organization’s checklist has resulted in dramatic reductions in surgical mortality and complications across diverse international hospitals. Surgical checklists have now become one of the clearest success stories in the patient safety movement, although some have described challenges to effective implementation. Dr. Atul Gawande discussed the history of checklists as a quality and safety tool in his book, The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right.
Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality
In order to encourage "voluntary, provider-driven initiatives to improve the safety and quality of patient care," the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) is spearheading the certification of Patient Safety Organizations (PSOs)—public or private organizations with expertise in the analysis of patient safety and hazards in health care. This Web site provides information on the rules governing PSOs and the requirements for an organization to be listed as a PSO. Development of PSOs was authorized by the 2005 Patient Safety and Quality Improvement Act.
Washington DC: National Quality Forum; December 2011.
The National Quality Forum originally defined 27 health care "never events"—patient safety events that pose serious harm to patients, but should be considered preventable—in 2002. The 2011 update now consists of 29 events, organized into surgical events (e.g., wrong-site surgery), device events (e.g., air embolism), care management events (e.g., death or disability due to medication errors), patient protection events (e.g., patient suicide), environmental events (e.g., fires), radiologic events, and criminal events. One notable addition to the original list is that serious harm associated with failure to properly follow up on test results is now considered a never event. Since the development and dissemination of this list, many states have mandated that health care facilities report all instances of these events. When such an event occurs, many institutions mandate performance of a root cause analysis.
Rockville MD: Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality; 2020.
Culture has been described as a key to establishing high reliability organizations. The National Quality Forum's Safe Practices for Healthcare and the Leapfrog Group both mandate hospitals to regularly assess their safety culture. This AHRQ Web site provides validated safety culture survey tools (Hospital, Medical Office, Nursing Home, Community Pharmacy, Ambulatory Surgery Center) and user guides health care organizations can use to implement the surveys. Organizations can also use the AHRQ database to compare their Surveys on Patient Safety Culture™ (SOPS®) results. In addition, reports are available that summarize the benchmarking data across cohorts nationwide. An AHRQ WebM&M perspective discussed how to establish a safety culture.
Bristol Royal Infirmary Inquiry; The Stationery Office. London, England: Crown Copyright; 2002.
In June 1998, the Secretary for Health announced to Parliament the organization of a formal Inquiry into children's heart surgery at the Bristol Royal Infirmary between 1984 and 1995. Their objectives included understanding what happened in Bristol, assessing the quality of care and system failures that contributed to deaths, and generating lessons that could be learned for the entire National Health Service (NHS) in the United Kingdom. The inquiry was independent and not held as a legal proceeding, but provided a comprehensive investigation with interviews, expert panels, and a goal of driving improvement efforts. Section one of the report outlines pediatric cardiac surgical services in Bristol while section two focuses on recommendations to ensure high quality care across the NHS. Several publications resulted from the learnings of the Bristol inquiry, including a discussion of cultural entrapment and lessons for quality improvement.
Rockville, MD: Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality; December 2009. AHRQ Publication No. 10-M008.
This tip sheet provides 10 practical steps hospitals can undertake to improve patient safety, based on research funded by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. The tips can be grouped into three areas: 1) reducing health care-acquired infections and retained surgical instruments through use of specific clinical practices; 2) improving drug safety by ensuring access to accurate drug information; and 3) improving the culture of safety through appropriate staffing and work hours for nurses and residents. These tips are based on high-quality research studies documenting the effectiveness of these interventions at reducing errors and improving safety for a broad range of patients.
Department of Health and Human Services, Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, Department of Defense.
Effective teamwork plays an essential role in providing safe patient care. The Team Strategies and Tools to Enhance Performance and Patient Safety (TeamSTEPPS) program was developed in collaboration by the United States Department of Defense and AHRQ in order to support effective communication and teamwork in health care. This updated version of the widely implemented program provides new tools to measure its impact, supports increased emphasis on the role of effective communication in team training, and includes a new course management guide. Teamwork training programs have been shown to improve knowledge and attitudes, but have received mixed reviews on their effectiveness in changing behaviors. An AHRQ WebM&M commentary discussed how improved teamwork and shared decision-making might have prevented the unnecessary placement of a peripherally inserted central catheter that led to significant complications.
JCAHO; Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations.
According to an AHRQ-supported study, wrong-site surgery occurred at a rate of approximately 1 per 113,000 operations between 1985 and 2004. In July 2004, The Joint Commission enacted a Universal Protocol that was developed through expert consensus on principles and steps for preventing wrong-site, wrong-procedure, and wrong-person surgery. The Universal Protocol applies to all accredited hospitals, ambulatory care, and office-based surgery facilities. The protocol requires performing a time out prior to beginning surgery, a practice that has been shown to improve teamwork and decrease the overall risk of wrong-site surgery. This Web site includes a number of resources and facts related to the Universal Protocol. Wrong-site, wrong-procedure, and wrong-patient errors are all now considered never events by the National Quality Forum and sentinel events by The Joint Commission. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services have not reimbursed for any costs associated with these surgical errors since 2009.