Reducing hospital errors: interventions that build safety culture

Annu Rev Public Health. 2013;34:373-96. doi: 10.1146/annurev-publhealth-031912-114439. Epub 2013 Jan 16.


Hospital errors are a seemingly intractable problem and continuing threat to public health. Errors resist intervention because too often the interventions deployed fail to address the fundamental source of errors: weak organizational safety culture. This review applies and extends a theoretical model of safety culture that suggests it is a function of interrelated processes of enabling, enacting, and elaborating that can reduce hospital errors over time. In this model, enabling activities help shape perceptions of safety climate, which promotes enactment of safety culture. We then classify a broad array of interventions as enabling, enacting, or elaborating a culture of safety. Our analysis, which is intended to guide future attempts to both study and more effectively create and sustain a safety culture, emphasizes that isolated interventions are unlikely to reduce the underlying causes of hospital errors. Instead, reducing errors requires systemic interventions that address the interrelated processes of safety culture in a balanced manner.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Hospitals / standards*
  • Humans
  • Medical Errors / prevention & control*
  • Organizational Culture*
  • Safety Management / organization & administration*