Healthcare quality improvement and patient safety efforts today are largely digital and data-rich. It’s easier than ever to collect, share, analyze, and execute on information to make better decisions. While there’s no such thing as too much data when it concerns the safety of patients and the efficacy of providers, what matters greatly is that we use the data in a meaningful way. It sounds easy enough, but in practice, it’s a challenge for many healthcare organizations.

Incident management is just one data-collection method used in hospitals, long-term care facilities, clinics, and ambulatory settings to foster safety and to help prevent (near) incidents and other avoidable complications of care.

On one end of the spectrum, the data generated from a digital incident management system can track a single complaint or grievance through resolution and application of the lessons learned, perhaps resulting in a new policy or a streamlined procedure. At the other end of the spectrum, incident management can aggregate large amounts of data across systems, ultimately pinpointing negative trends to address and positive approaches to recognize. 

What constitutes a structured approach?

The term “data-rich and information poor” comes from the business world but it applies in all sectors. In healthcare incident management, if you have a surplus of data but don’t know how to use it or can’t organize it into actionable intelligence, you’re DRIP. That’s where a sound structure comes into play. 

A structure is more than the collection tool, the participants, and the data itself. It’s a workflow that empowers you to be reactive (e.g., use root cause analysis) or proactive (e.g., implement Safety-II) based on what’s called for in each event or near incident. It’s a guided pathway to avoid the effects of being overwhelmed by high data volumes. 

The value of a one-stop, structured, digital incident management system lies in its abilities to:

  • Capture and monitor patient safety-related incidents
  • Enable transparency or anonymity (e.g., “Just Culture”)
  • Gather feedback from involved parties and third parties
  • Provide analytics 
  • Manage interventions
  • Resolve events
  • Recognize positive contributions to safety (e.g., “Good Catch” initiatives)
  • Identify and implement improvement actions
  • Track the efficacy of actions
  • Configure workflows to current policy

Four ways to avoid data paralysis

The following best practices ensure that your organization is cultivating a structured and comprehensive incident management program—not just piling on data. 

1. Make data collection worthwhile

Failing to translate captured incidents or events into meaningful action risks noncompliance, of course, but also devalues the entire incident reporting exercise. Providers and staff can be left wondering whether their reporting efforts are worthwhile if no one is executing on the data and findings. We ask our providers and staff to be transparent and come forward with information—sometimes at great self-risk. Patients want to know that the healthcare organization is ensuring their safety, and they see this through data. Providers ask and deserve to know what will be done with the data and to be certain it will be used appropriately.

The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality provides guidance and resources on how to “close the loop” and share learning from (near) incidents and adverse events. 

2. Once the data’s in, connect the dots

Once you’ve committed resources and time collecting incident data, tie it to related functions. It’s hard to find any area of healthcare today where duplicate efforts aren't being streamlined. Any workflow tool for incident management must be capable of sharing the accounts digitally for application wherever they are needed, seen by those who should have access

Risk mitigation, peer review/provider performance improvement, quality improvement, and patient safety might be separate functions in your organization, but often they seek and share the same data points. Capitalize by using a platform that accommodates multiple purposes.  

3. Understand how system factors affect data

Healthcare organizations are complex entities in turn affected by human factors and systems engineering. As a result, any patient safety or incident management system must take into account how these factors affect data collection and analysis methods. Influencers can include legislation, state regulations, policies, culture, people, resources, and more. According to the Canadian Patient Safety Institute, maintaining a system perspective and regularly assessing subsystems and their connectivity is critical in identifying influencers. This activity can inform actions to strengthen patient safety and incident management. 

For example, look at these areas to gauge outside influences:

  • Is your organization using only traditional, retrospective methods of data collection (e.g., no news is good news) based on any influencing factor(s)? 
  • Does one subsystem have a disproportionate influence on data analysis methods or improvement actions? 
  • Are you collecting only the data required to improve performance and meet accreditation and regulatory requirements? 

4. Make your incident structure adaptable

Regulations and accreditation policies change over time, new organizational missions and goals call for new data, and mergers and acquisitions keep occurring. Your incident management structure can’t remain static. All of the valuable incident management data you’re collecting is part of a larger picture.

Ensure your solution is capable of aggregating data in a way that guides large-scale decision making and can incorporate all incidents along the continuum regarding the  patient path (and not just the hospital): surgery, ambulatory, urgent, home health/hospice and PCP office, new facilities—rather than just providing a million points of light.  

Data collection, analysis, and sharing should be automated and built into work processes using real-time information that enables timely or proactive intervention organization-wide. Ensure that your organization learns from its (near) incident data. Report on and analyze events and share key insights with designated users—departments, individuals, committees, or reviewers.

Learn More about symplr’s total Patient Safety solution, which includes incident management.

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