Background: In 1998 the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) created the National Center for Patient Safety (NCPS) to lead the effort to reduce adverse events and close calls systemwide. NCPS's aim is to foster a culture of safety in the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) by developing and providing patient safety programs and delivering standardized tools, methods, and initiatives to the 163 VA facilities.
A novel approach: To create a system-oriented approach to patient safety, NCPS looked for models in fields such as aviation, nuclear power, human factors, and safety engineering. Core concepts included a non-punitive approach to patient safety activities that emphasizes systems-based learning, the active seeking out of close calls, which are viewed as opportunities for learning and investigation, and the use of interdisciplinary teams to investigate close calls and adverse events through a root cause analysis (RCA) process. Participation by VA facilities and networks was voluntary. NCPS has always aimed to develop a program that would be applicable both within the VA and beyond.
Key action items and results related to rca: NCPS's full patient safety program was tested and implemented throughout the VA system from November 1999 to August 2000. Program components included an RCA system for use by caregivers at the front line, a system for the aggregate review of RCA results, information systems software, alerts and advisories, and cognitive acids. Following program implementation, NCPS saw a 900-fold increase in reporting of close calls of high-priority events, reflecting the level of commitment to the program by VHA leaders and staff.