Efforts to improve patient safety have largely focused on inpatient or emergency settings, but the importance of patient safety in ambulatory care is increasingly being recognized as a key component of overall health care quality. Care gaps in outpatient settings may include missed diagnoses, medication errors, or insufficient monitoring of patients with chronic conditions or on certain medications. Further, care gaps may occur across a wide range of clinical conditions. We report here an innovative approach to improve patient safety in ambulatory settings - the Kaiser Permanente Southern California (KPSC) Outpatient Safety Net Program - which leverages electronic health information to efficiently identify and address a variety of potential care gaps across different clinical conditions. Between 2006 and 2012, the KPSC Outpatient Safety Net Program implemented 24 distinct electronic clinical surveillance programs, which routinely scan the electronic health record to identify patients with a particular condition or event. For example, electronic clinical surveillance may be used to scan for harmful medication interactions or potentially missed diagnoses (e.g., abnormal test results without evidence of subsequent care). Keys to the success of the program include strong leadership support, a proactive clinical culture, the blame-free nature of the program, and the availability of electronic health information. The Outpatient Safety Net Program framework may be adopted by other organizations, including those who have electronic health information but not an electronic health record. In the future, the creation of a forum to share electronic clinical surveillance programs across organizations may facilitate more rapid improvements in outpatient safety.
Keywords: ambulatory care; electronic clinical surveillance; electronic health information; electronic health record (EHR); outpatient care; quality improvement.