Patient safety's missing link: using clinical expertise to recognize, respond to and reduce risks at a population level

Peter D. Hibbert, Frances Healey, Tara Lamont, William M. Marela, Bruce Warner, William B. Runciman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Citations (Scopus)


Introduction: Although incident reporting systems are widespread in health care as a strategy to reduce harm to patients, the focus has been on reporting incidents rather than responding to them. Systems containing large numbers of incidents are uniquely placed to raise awareness of, and then characterize and respond to infrequent, but significant risks. The aim of this paper is to outline a framework for the surveillance of such risks, their systematic analysis, and for the development and dissemination of population-based preventive and corrective strategies using clinical and human factors expertise. Requirements for a population-level response: The framework outlines four system requirements: to report incidents; to aggregate them; to support and conduct a risk surveillance, review and response process; and to disseminate recommendations. Personnel requirements include a non-hierarchical multidisciplinary team comprising clinicians and subject-matter and human factors experts to provide interpretation and high-level judgement from a range of perspectives. The risk surveillance, review and response process includes searching of large incident and other databases for how and why things have gone wrong, narrative analysis by clinical experts, consultation with the health care sector, and development and pilot testing of corrective strategies. Criteria for deciding which incidents require a population-level response are outlined. Discussion: The incremental cost of a population-based response function is modest compared with the 'reporting' element. Combining clinical and human factors expertise and a systematic approach underpins the creation of credible risk identification processes and the development of preventive and corrective strategies.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)114-121
Number of pages8
JournalInternational Journal for Quality in Health Care
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2016


  • incident reporting and analysis
  • patient safety
  • risk management
  • medical errors
  • human factors
  • adverse events
  • Incident reporting and analysis


Dive into the research topics of 'Patient safety's missing link: using clinical expertise to recognize, respond to and reduce risks at a population level'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this