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Is health care getting safer?

Vincent, C; Aylin, P; Franklin, BD; Holmes, A; Iskander, S; Jacklin, A; Moorthy, K; (2008) Is health care getting safer? BRITISH MEDICAL JOURNAL , 337 , Article ARTN a2426. 10.1136/bmj.a2426. Green open access

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Patient safety has been high on the national and international agenda in health care for almost a decade. In the United Kingdom, reviews of case records have shown that over 10% of patients experience an adverse event while in hospital,1 2 a figure reflected in similar studies around the world.3 Considerable efforts have been made to improve safety, and it is natural to ask whether these efforts have been well directed. Are patients any safer? The answer to this simple question is curiously elusive. Although some aspects of safety are difficult to measure for technical reasons (defining preventability for instance), the main problem is that measurement and evaluation have not been high on the agenda. We believe that the lack of reliable information on safety and quality of care is hindering improvement in safety across the world. The principal approach to patient safety in the UK, United States, and many other countries has been to establish local and national reporting systems; these systems invite voluntary reporting of unspecified safety incidents with the aim of learning lessons and feeding back the findings into the system. However, these reporting systems do not effectively detect adverse events. In the most recent comparison, reporting systems detected only about 6% of adverse events found by systematic review of records.2 Reporting systems are a valuable component of a safety system, but they are essentially systems for warning and communication inside an organisation and, if large scale, of detecting rare events not easily detectable by other means. They cannot and never will act as a measurement system for safety. Here, we use the example of the UK National Health Service to determine whether it is possible to assess change in several core areas that reflect the safety of health care and, if so, what changes are apparent. We focus on measures of outcome, in the sense of definable events that happen to patients (infections, morbidity, mortality) and on key measures of process (such as drug errors). We have not considered concepts such as culture or resilience that are held to reflect safety but are not proved indices of clinical process or outcome. Defining safety is itself a challenge, and we do not pretend that the indicators can provide more than a crude measure of overall levels of safety. The indicators we have chosen are, however, all important to patients.

Type: Article
Title: Is health care getting safer?
Identifier: PubMed ID: 19008272
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
DOI: 10.1136/bmj.a2426
Publisher version: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.a2426
Language: English
Additional information: This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution Non-commercial License, which permits use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited, the use is non commercial and is otherwise in compliance with the license. See: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/ and http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/legalcode.
UCL classification: UCL
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences > Faculty of Life Sciences
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences > Faculty of Life Sciences > UCL School of Pharmacy
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences > Faculty of Life Sciences > UCL School of Pharmacy > Practice and Policy
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/1352275
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