Developing and deploying a patient safety program in a large health care delivery system: you can't fix what you don't know about

Jt Comm J Qual Improv. 2001 Oct;27(10):522-32. doi: 10.1016/s1070-3241(01)27046-1.


Background: The Veterans Administration (VA) identified patient safety as a high-priority issue in 1997 and implemented the Patient Safety Improvement (PSI) initiative throughout its entire health care system. In spring 1998 the External Panel on Patient Safety System Design recommended alternative methods to enhance reporting and thereby improve patient safety. REDESIGNING THE PSI INITIATIVE: The VA began redesigning the PSI initiative in late 1998. The dedicated National Center for Patient Safety (NCPS) was established. Using the panel's recommendations as a jumping-off point, NCPS began to identify known and suspected obstacles to implementation (such as possible punitive consequences and additional workload). NCPS adopted a prioritization scoring method, the Safety Assessment Code (SAC) Matrix, for close calls and adverse events, which requires assessing the event's actual or potential severity and the probability of occurrence. The SAC Matrix specifies actions that must be taken for given scores. Use of the SAC score permits a consistent handling of reports throughout the VA system and a rational selection of cases to be considered. A system for performing a root cause analysis (RCA) was developed to guide caregivers at the frontline. This system includes a computer-aided tool, a flipbook containing a series of six questions, and reporting of the findings back to the reporter. The final step requires that the facility's chief executive officer "concur" or "nonconcur" on each recommended corrective action. The RCA team outlines how the effectiveness of the corrective action will be evaluated to verify that the action has had the intended effect, and it ascertains that there were no unintended negative consequences.

Implementation: Based on successful implementation in two pilots, full-scale national rollout to the 173 facilities began in April 2000 and was concluded by the end of August 2000. NCPS supplied 3 days of training for individuals at each facility. The training included didactic components, an introduction to human factors engineering concepts, and small- and large-group simulation exercises. Facility leaders were reminded of the necessity to reinforce the point that assignment to an RCA team was considered an important duty.

Discussion: It is essential to design and implement a system that takes into account the concerns of the frontline personnel and is aimed at being a tool for learning and not accountability. The system must have as its primary focus the dissemination of positive actions that reduce or eliminate vulnerabilities that have been identified, not a counting exercise of the number of reports.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Databases, Factual
  • Hospital Administration / methods
  • Hospitals, Veterans
  • Humans
  • Medical Errors / prevention & control*
  • Organizational Objectives
  • Patient Care Team / standards*
  • Risk Management / methods
  • Safety Management / standards*