Background: Root cause analysis (RCA) originated in the manufacturing engineering sector but has been adapted for routine use in healthcare to investigate patient safety incidents and facilitate organizational learning. Despite the limitations of the RCA evidence base, healthcare authorities and decision makers in NHS Scotland - similar to those internationally - have invested heavily in developing training programmes to build local capacity and capability, and this is a cornerstone of many organizational policies for investigating safety-critical issues. However, to our knowledge there has been no systematic attempt to follow-up and evaluate post-training experiences of RCA-trained staff in Scotland. Given the significant investment in people, time and funding we aimed to capture and learn from the reported experiences, benefits and attitudes of RCA-trained staff and the perceived impact on healthcare systems and safety.
Methods: We adapted a questionnaire used in a published Australian research study to undertake a cross sectional online survey of health care professionals (e.g. nursing & midwifery, medical doctors and pharmacists) formally trained in RCA by a single territorial health board region in NHS Scotland.
Results: A total of 228/469 of invited staff completed the survey (48%). A majority of respondents had yet to participate in a post-training RCA investigation (n=127, 55.7%). Of RCA-experience staff, 71 had assumed a lead investigator role (70.3%) on one or more occasions. A clear majority indicated that their improvement recommendations were generally or partly implemented (82%). The top three barriers to RCA success were cited as: lack of time (54.6%), unwilling colleagues (34%) and inter-professional differences (31%). Differences in agreement levels between RCA-experienced and inexperienced respondents were noted on whether a follow-up session would be beneficial after conducting RCA (65.3% v 39.4%) and if peer feedback on RCA reports would be of educational value (83.2% v 37.0%). Comparisons with the previous research highlighted significant differences such as less reported difficulties within RCA teams (P<0.001) and a greater proportion of respondents taking on RCA leadership roles in this study (P<0.001).
Conclusion: This study adds to our knowledge and understanding of the need to improve the effectiveness of RCA training and frontline practices in healthcare settings. The overall evidence points to a potential organisational learning need to provide RCA-trained staff with continuous development opportunities and performance feedback. Healthcare authorities may wish to look more critically at whom they train in RCA, and how this is delivered and supported educationally to maximize cost-benefits, organizational learning and safer patient care.