Purpose: The value of near-miss and error reporting processes in many industries is well appreciated and typically can be supported with data that have been collected over time. While it is generally accepted that such processes are important in the radiation therapy (RT) setting, studies analyzing the effects of organized reporting and process improvement systems on operation and patient safety in individual clinics remain scarce. The purpose of this work is to report on the design and long-term use of an electronic reporting system in a RT department and compare it to the paper-based reporting system it replaced.
Methods: A specifically designed web-based system was designed for reporting of individual events in RT and clinically implemented in 2007. An event was defined as any occurrence that could have, or had, resulted in a deviation in the delivery of patient care. The aim of the system was to support process improvement in patient care and safety. The reporting tool was designed so individual events could be quickly and easily reported without disrupting clinical work. This was very important because the system use was voluntary. The spectrum of reported deviations extended from minor workflow issues (e.g., scheduling) to errors in treatment delivery. Reports were categorized based on functional area, type, and severity of an event. The events were processed and analyzed by a formal process improvement group that used the data and the statistics collected through the web-based tool for guidance in reengineering clinical processes. The reporting trends for the first 24 months with the electronic system were compared to the events that were reported in the same clinic with a paper-based system over a seven-year period.
Results: The reporting system and the process improvement structure resulted in increased event reporting, improved event communication, and improved identification of clinical areas which needed process and safety improvements. The reported data were also useful for the evaluation of corrective measures and recognition of ineffective measures and efforts. The electronic system was relatively well accepted by personnel and resulted in minimal disruption of clinical work. Event reporting in the quarters with the fewest number of reported events, though voluntary, was almost four times greater than the most events reported in any one quarter with the paper-based system and remained consistent from the inception of the process through the date of this report. However, the acceptance was not universal, validating the need for improved education regarding reporting processes and systematic approaches to reporting culture development.
Conclusions: Specially designed electronic event reporting systems in a radiotherapy setting can provide valuable data for process and patient safety improvement and are more effective reporting mechanisms than paper-based systems. Additional work is needed to develop methods that can more effectively utilize reported data for process improvement, including the development of standardized event taxonomy and a classification system for RT.