How to Improve Incident Reporting in Healthcare

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Written by Katherine Zheng, PhD, BSN Content Writer, IntelyCare
A nurse at a long-term care facility writes down an incident report while interviewing a resident.

Incident reporting in healthcare is essential to promoting and preserving patient safety. Through the accurate documentation of errors, healthcare leaders can work to reduce the risk of incidents in their facilities. With an estimated one in 20 patients experiencing preventable harm within a medical setting, harnessing the insights provided by incident reports is a necessary effort.

While incident reports have the potential to provide valuable data, the system of how reports are made (and utilized) can make or break the usefulness of this information. If you’re a facility leader looking to get the most out of incident reporting, this guide outlines practical steps you can take to improve your process.

What Are Incident Reports in Healthcare?

An incident report is a staff-written, detailed log of events that lead up to a patient-related safety incident. While there is no standard reporting process, facilities typically have a protocol for events to be reported on as soon as they occur. Common examples of incident reports in healthcare include:

  • Wrong medication or dose administered to a patient
  • Mix-up of patient information and data
  • Miscommunication during patient hand-offs

Why Is Incident Reporting Important?

Filing incident reports in healthcare is an important way for staff to account for any patient-related safety concerns or accidents. This provides information that is crucial to understand:

  • What went wrong — The first step to fixing a problem is recognizing that it exists. When facilities are aware of errors, they can promptly take ownership and work to address it.
  • Why it happened — Healthcare professionals juggle many responsibilities and it can be difficult to recall what led up to an event from memory alone. By documenting an event as soon as it happens, facilities have more information to decipher the root cause.
  • How to prevent it — Understanding the cause of an incident can provide insight into how similar events can be prevented. This allows for better risk management, improving both patient safety and staff workflow.

3 Ways to Improve Your Facility’s Incident Reporting System

The Department of Health and Human Services states that up to 86% of patient-related safety events go unreported. While incident reporting in healthcare can be highly beneficial to facilities, staff, and patients, a report is only useful if it’s actually filed.

Facility leaders must understand the importance of reducing barriers that may lead to underreporting or incomplete reporting of events. Implement these three strategies to build a more effective system and ensure your facility gets the most out of incident reports.

1. Create a User-Friendly Reporting System

It’s important to create a user-friendly system that incentivizes staff to file reports. Research has shown that when a reporting system is easy to access (web-based or electronic) and simple to use, staff are more willing to file a report.

If your facility is using a hand-written reporting system, this may mean upgrading to an electronic system that can streamline the process. And, if you’re already using an electronic system, this could mean reevaluating what’s on your reporting form. 

Simplifying your form can prevent common reporting issues, such as missing data. For instance, instead of having required fields asking staff to rate several aspects of an incident, a free text box asking what led to the event can gather useful information in a less burdensome way.

2. Make Reports Meaningful To Staff

Incident reporting in healthcare can feel like an added chore if staff are not seeing their efforts come to fruition. They may take the time to file a detailed report, but never hear further feedback. This can make many staff feel that incident reporting is not a good use of their time.

To combat these perceptions, it’s important to sustain channels of communication throughout the entire reporting process. To keep staff more involved, you can:

  • Notify staff when their report is received or being reviewed by risk management.
  • Deliver timely, individual feedback to the staff member who filed the report.
  • Provide general updates on facility-related improvements that have stemmed from previous incident reports.

Letting staff know what happens after a report is filed also enforces the need to take action. Investing in a risk management team, for instance, can ensure that data from reports are going back into improving facility operations. 

3. Provide Ongoing Training and Resources

Healthcare staff commonly report that they feel unprepared to use reporting systems or fear blame and judgment from colleagues after an event. This can also explain why some reports never get filed (or are filed incorrectly).

To better support staff in this process, facilities should provide ongoing training and resources. This can mean establishing clear incident reporting guidelines on:

  • What types of errors should be reported — Studies show that staff often refrain from reporting because they’re not sure what events should even be reported. Since there are many different types of incident reports in healthcare, defining what reportable events are can help remove this barrier.
  • How to use a reporting system — Staff need to understand how to navigate a system in order to file a report accurately. Providing necessary training on a system’s use will help staff feel comfortable when it’s time to file a report.
  • What happens after a report is filed — To prevent fears around blame, facilities should encourage a positive work culture, reinforcing the notion that reports are not used to punish staff and are instead part of a team effort to improve patient care.
  • Resources protecting against misuse — In rare cases, staff may still misuse reporting to target other colleagues. Implementing a clear protocol for these scenarios can help staff feel protected. This could involve consulting Human Resources or establishing a confidential grievance process with management leaders.

Seeking More Strategies to Improve Your Facility’s Care?

Now that you’ve learned ways to improve incident reporting in healthcare, you may be seeking other avenues to best serve your staff and patients. Sign up for IntelyCare’;s free newsletter and receive all of the latest industry insights that can help bring your facility to the next level.