4 Reasons to Skip Paper and Switch to Online Incident Reporting Software

Female sitting with stethoscope talking to male in scrubs and stethoscope

If your organization still uses hardcopy elements for incident reporting, you’re not alone. Paper reporting forms are a good start, but don’t provide the structure necessary to account for organization-wide, event-related information that saves you from trouble down the road. The reasons to go digital with an online incident reporting software program are multiplying and include improved accessibility, analysis, accuracy, and compliance tracking. 

Incident reporting is part of a comprehensive incident management solution that’s optimized when integrated with your organization’s policies, procedures, and workflows. No matter what web-based incident reporting tool is used, it must support risk management across all facilities and services.  

There are four types of incident reports 

  • A clinical incident occurs when an unfavorable event either causes physical harm to a patient or has the potential to cause them harm. Examples of clinical incidents include a medical staff member administering the wrong medication to a patient, an adverse reaction to an organ transplant procedure or blood transfusion, or the unintentional retention of a foreign object inside a patient following surgery.   
  • Near miss incidents occur when a hazard, unsafe condition, or error is identified and rectified before it has any impact on a patient. Although the result of a near miss causes no harm to a patient, it is still critical that these incidents are reported so that the factors that led to them are identified and minimized in the future. Examples of near miss incidents include disengaged bedrails after a patient is asleep or an incorrect medication dispensation that is identified before administration.  
  • Non-clinical incidents are events that are related to a failure or breach in health and safety protocols. Examples of non-clinical incidents include misplaced or lost patient-related documentation or documents being interchanged between patient files; or a lapse in security at a healthcare facility, such as an unauthorized person gaining access to a restricted space.  
  • Workplace incidents occur when an accident at work causes property damage or leads to physical injury or mental distress. Examples of workplace incidents include events in which a patient or their loved ones create an unsafe work environment by subjecting a care provider to verbal or physical abuse, or a clinician or healthcare staff member is injured when handling a surgical tool or hypodermic needle.   

The question of how an integrated event reporting system should respond to the ever-changing healthcare landscape will be highlighted in the following four areas that point to the need for implementing a cloud-based event reporting platform. 

1. Accessibility

A select few people—front-line risk managers, quality professionals, and nursing leaders—oversee incident management in your facility. But incident reporting requires broad participation, and it shouldn’t be limited to staff. Patients and their families, visitors, and clinicians must be encouraged to speak up about (potentially) adverse events. The benefit of tapping into multiple perspectives is increased awareness of risks and better control over taking corrective actions to mitigate them. That can’t occur if incident complaint forms and instructions aren’t easily accessed. 

Incident reporting is a voluntary act. Studies have shown that barriers to reporting accessibility and feedback discourage participation. The participants who can contribute to your successful incident management program carry web-based reporting technology in the palm of their hand that’s driven by incident management software. They’re also accustomed to completing online surveys for other services. 

Digital healthcare incident reporting systems provide forms that you can customize and allow participants to quickly and easily report any (near) incident. Questionnaires and audit forms can be structured by role and are designed for access from a computer, tablet, or smartphone.  

Benefits of an online incident reporting system include: 

  • Guidance that is customized by specific role/relationship 
  • A workflow that depends on the type of (near) incident reported 
  • Automated feedback for individuals who report  
  • Status updates and notifications for the progress of the report to keep stakeholders informed 
  • Mobile-friendly forms for ease of completion 

2. Analysis

Although each facility is responsible for tracking its data using incident management software —and some may use paper coupled with manual data entry for reporting—the trending of such data belongs in a shared database. Root cause analysis, prospective risk analysis (Failure Mode and Effects Analysis), and other analytical methods require a flexible online incident reporting platform for data collection and subsequent analysis. 

Because complex, multi-entity healthcare systems are the norm, real-time enterprise-wide reporting capability is essential. If your quality and safety data are sound and reflect organizational efforts toward continuous improvement, they can be great assets. But data analysis that encourages transparency and results in positive change requires a coordinated effort and a shared technological tool.  

Online incident reporting that feeds data from multiple sites into a single source of truth yields big-picture insights. It’s the errors, breaks from protocol, and failed equipment or policies within daily processes that could compromise safety and compliance system wide. Effective and centralized incident management software shows patterns of risk that might otherwise be missed.  

3. Accuracy

When (near) incidents and staff response to these incidents aren’t accurately captured, the costs are high for individual practitioners as well as the healthcare system. Risks include patient harm, regulatory noncompliance, malpractice, and poor public relations. Accurate documentation can make the difference in avoiding a missed improvement opportunity or failing to recognize and remedy any errors that have already occurred.  

Ensure that your organization protects the accuracy and permanency of incident information.  

Participants should be able to: 

  • Provide lengthy descriptions in open-ended response boxes as well as through yes/no questions 
  • Include supporting details in the form of attachments, such as photos, videos, or voice recordings 
  • See only relevant questions based on the (near) incident type 
  • Remain anonymous if they choose  

Accuracy matters more than ever as practitioners increasingly administer care and services in outpatient or ambulatory sites and via telemedicine. Use of a digital incident reporting system that’s driven by incident management software meets providers, patients, and visitors at point-of-care or point-of-contact sites.  

4. Compliance tracking

Being in compliance with any number of bodies that provide oversight (e.g., individual states, The Joint Commission, Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, and National Committee for Quality Assurance) requires healthcare organizations to: 

  • Accurately collect and manage incident data 
  • Conduct audits 
  • Organize surveys 
  • Manage improvement plans 

Incident reporting is more than a compliance mandate. It’s a way to build trust and make all healthcare participants’ voices heard. 

The American Hospital Association calls compliance “a building block of the trust and confidence communities must have in hospitals and health systems.” Today’s initiatives to promote safety and compliance are countless—clinical integration and accountable care organizations, patient safety organizations, patient-centered medical homes, and the like. 

We may not think of incident reporting using the top incident management tools as a patient-centered care initiative. However, patients and their families are often the best source of information about near misses and incidents that can contribute to complying with an ever-increasing number of regulations.  

Valuable information comes from creating a partnership between patients and their providers to prevent errors and reduce the incidence of (near) incidents. But the strategy works only if participants are afforded access and are encouraged to speak up amid a culture of transparency and blamelessness. 

Cloud-based incident reporting software provides insight from near misses and the ability to recover and learn from events that paper and folder systems cannot. By utilizing such technology, hospitals and health systems can proactively manage safety-related events and activities and build a culture of safety. 

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