Patient safety improvements in radiation treatment through 5 years of incident learning

Pract Radiat Oncol. 2013 Jul-Sep;3(3):157-163. doi: 10.1016/j.prro.2012.08.001. Epub 2012 Sep 7.


Purpose: To quantify the impact of a comprehensive incident learning system in terms of safety improvements.

Methods and materials: An incident learning system tailored for radiation treatment and based on published principles has been used consistently in our large academic cancer center for more than 5 years. In the adopted system, every incident, whether or not there is a resulting direct impact on a patient treatment, is recorded and investigated to determine basic causes. The scope of the program thus includes potential, or near miss, events which have no impact on patients but which provide valuable insights into program weaknesses and hence facilitate proactive measures to minimize risk.

Results: Analysis of 2506 incident reports generated over a 5-year period demonstrate a substantial decline in actual, nonminor incidents; ie, those with a dose variation from that prescribed of greater than 5%. Only 49 incidents (1.95%) had an impact on patients. The actual incident rate at the point of treatment delivery, the most vulnerable point in our process, has also decreased. The system has provided rapid feedback to monitor several initiatives including implementation of new technology and several new treatment techniques. Using the evidence provided by these incident reports, strategies were developed by a multidisciplinary team to address system weaknesses. Interventions introduced include several human error reduction strategies including forcing functions and constraints to improve system resilience.

Conclusions: Our results demonstrate that effective use of an incident learning system will strongly encourage the reporting of incidents, whether or not they directly impact a patient, and serve as a proactive means of enhancing safety and quality. As a side benefit, addressing and overcoming the cultural barriers between the 3 professional groups involved in radiation treatment has resulted in an improvement in the safety culture in our center.