Social disparities in patient safety in primary care: a systematic review

Int J Equity Health. 2018 Aug 7;17(1):114. doi: 10.1186/s12939-018-0828-7.


Background: Patient safety is a quality indicator for primary care and it should be based on individual needs, and not differ among different social groups. Nevertheless, the attention on social disparities in patient safety has been mainly directed towards the hospital care, often overlooking the primary care setting. Therefore, this paper aims to synthesise social disparities in patient safety in the primary care setting.

Methods: The Databases PubMed and Web of Science were searched for relevant studies published between January 1st 2006 and January 31st 2017. Papers investigating racial, gender and socioeconomic disparities in regards to administrative errors, diagnostic errors, medication errors and transition of care errors in primary care were included. No distinction in terms of participants' age was made.

Results: Women and black patients are more likely to experience patient safety events in primary care, although it depends on the type of disease, treatment, and healthcare service. The available literature largely describes gender and ethnic disparities in the different patient safety domains whilst income and educational level are studied to a lesser extent.

Conclusions: The results of this systematic review suggest that vulnerable social groups are likely to experience adverse patient safety events in primary care. Enhancing family doctors' awareness of these inequities is a necessary first step to tackle them and improve patient safety for all patients. Future research should focus on social disparities in patient safety using socioeconomic indicators, such as income and education.

Keywords: Education; Ethnicity; Gender; High-income countries; Income; Inequity; Patient safety; Primary care.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Ethnicity / statistics & numerical data
  • Female
  • Healthcare Disparities / statistics & numerical data*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Patient Safety / statistics & numerical data*
  • Primary Health Care*
  • Racial Groups / statistics & numerical data
  • Sex Factors
  • Socioeconomic Factors*
  • Young Adult