Patient neglect in healthcare institutions: a systematic review and conceptual model

BMC Health Serv Res. 2013 Apr 30:13:156. doi: 10.1186/1472-6963-13-156.


Background: Patient neglect is an issue of increasing public concern in Europe and North America, yet remains poorly understood. This is the first systematic review on the nature, frequency and causes of patient neglect as distinct from patient safety topics such as medical error.

Method: The Pubmed, Science Direct, and Medline databases were searched in order to identify research studies investigating patient neglect. Ten articles and four government reports met the inclusion criteria of reporting primary data on the occurrence or causes of patient neglect. Qualitative and quantitative data extraction investigated (1) the definition of patient neglect, (2) the forms of behaviour associated with neglect, (3) the reported frequency of neglect, and (4) the causes of neglect.

Results: Patient neglect is found to have two aspects. First, procedure neglect, which refers to failures of healthcare staff to achieve objective standards of care. Second, caring neglect, which refers to behaviours that lead patients and observers to believe that staff have uncaring attitudes. The perceived frequency of neglectful behaviour varies by observer. Patients and their family members are more likely to report neglect than healthcare staff, and nurses are more likely to report on the neglectful behaviours of other nurses than on their own behaviour. The causes of patient neglect frequently relate to organisational factors (e.g. high workloads that constrain the behaviours of healthcare staff, burnout), and the relationship between carers and patients.

Conclusion: A social psychology-based conceptual model is developed to explain the occurrence and nature of patient neglect. This model will facilitate investigations of i) differences between patients and healthcare staff in how they perceive neglect, ii) the association with patient neglect and health outcomes, iii) the relative importance of system and organisational factors in causing neglect, and iv) the design of interventions and health policy to reduce patient neglect.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Caregivers / ethics
  • Caregivers / standards
  • Causality
  • Elder Abuse* / prevention & control
  • Europe
  • Geriatric Assessment* / methods
  • Health Services for the Aged / ethics
  • Health Services for the Aged / standards*
  • Humans
  • National Health Programs
  • Organizational Culture*
  • Professional Misconduct
  • Social Behavior*
  • Systems Analysis
  • Terminology as Topic