What Are Medical Incidents and importance to Report Them?

January 17, 2023

You will be surprised to know the alarming rate of medical incidents in today's healthcare industry. Some might even argue that patients are more likely to die from a medical error than a transport accident. 

An alarming statistic from a study made by the Centers for Disease Control shows that medical errors are the third leading cause of death in the U.S. 

In the words of Prof Liam Donaldson (WHO Envoy For Patient Safety), "To err is human, to cover up is unforgivable and to fail to learn is inexcusable." 

These words contain the significant aspects that must be considered while dealing with medical incidents. 

The overall safety of your patients and workers ultimately relies on; your staff's willingness to report potential errors, ability to learn from mistakes, and deliberate action steps to implement the required operational change within your healthcare facility. 

Good healthcare practitioners make mistakes; however, it is evident that a single person does not cause most medical incidents. 

Therefore, blaming those involved in medical errors alone is an inadequate measure in reducing the medical incidents rate in your healthcare organization. 

Repeated errors are a pointer to hidden problems which can be detected and guarded against by putting effective reporting systems in place within your facility. 

What Are Medical Incidents? 

A medical incident can be described as unforeseen occurrences that affect patients or staff safety. Medical incidents are mostly related to injuries, equipment failures, administrative flaws, patient care, or medical errors. 

While it is impossible to prevent human errors, you can put structures in place that act as barriers to making mistakes. 

Ensuring that the entire staff in your organization is involved in providing the facility's overall safety is one of them. 

It is crucial to create a flexible system where staff and patients can freely report incidents and near-misses. A near miss today can become a fatal medical incident tomorrow.

Understanding Medical Incident Reporting 

Incident reporting in healthcare can be described as the process of collecting and analyzing medical incidents data to come up with actionable plans to prevent or reduce the rate of recurrence. 

Creating an effective incident reporting system within your facility gives room for every member of your healthcare organization to report incidents or emerging problems in a non-blaming way. With this, you can be proactive enough to prevent a medical incident or reoccurrence. 

Why Is It Important to Report Medical Incidents? 

No matter the severity of the incident, reporting every medical event is vital in improving the overall success rate in your healthcare organization. Incident reports capture every data required to make informed policy decisions in upgrading the quality of care in the hospital. 

Here are some of the benefits of reporting medical incidents; 

  1. It Improves Safety For All Healthcare Participants

Good reporting ensures problems are identified, and proactive solutions to these problems can protect every participant within your healthcare organization from harm. 

  1. Proper incident reporting makes it easy to identify the root cause. 

A proper patient/staff incident report details a written account/chain of events that led to an adverse medical event. The root cause lies somewhere in that chain of events. In some cases, the root causes might be poor communications, inadequate staffing, inconsistent procedure, provider burnout, etc. 

  1. It Improves Policy and Processes

While sorting through multiple incident data reports, you might notice that some incidents are part of a larger pattern. 

For instance, if you detect a series of incidents coming from undiagnosed patients with hypertension, the blood pressure device fails to provide an accurate reading. You will need to prevent a recurrence by performing routine performance tests on all medical equipment in the hospital.

Other policy and procedure problems incident reporting can shed light on include;

  • Insufficient training of new staff.
  • Excessive workload due to bad staff scheduling management
  • Incorrect or unclear procedures for medication administration. 
  1. Improving Clinical Risk Management

In clinical risk management, administrators need incident reports as essential data points. Administrators should know the hospital's safety performance and use incident reports as an aid to identify and address issues that can increase your facility's exposure. 

  1.  Fosters Continuous Quality Improvement (CQI)

Incident reporting helps improve the effectiveness of your CQI. Continuous Quality Improvement within hospitals focuses on optimizing the quality of patient-related operations and clinical processes (e.g., discharge and admission procedures). Medical incident reporting helps to identify areas needing quality improvement. 

  1. It Saves Cost 

Medical errors often result in a bad organizational reputation and costly legal suits. Not to mention the heavy fines and penalties government regulation entities will impose on such organizations. These adverse outcomes and unnecessary costs could have started with a single incident. 

Therefore making sure every member of your staff is involved in the risk mitigation process through proper incident reporting is essential in reducing the unnecessary costs associated with lawsuits and penalties. 

Barriers To Incident Reporting 

As much as we have found incident reporting pivotal in reducing medical error rates and improving overall quality care in your healthcare facility, under-reporting of medical incidents and errors is still common.

Some estimates by public health researchers show that only 10-20% of errors are ever reported, out of which only 5-10% causes harm to patients. Some of the reasons for under-reporting in healthcare organizations can be; 

1. Lack of trust in the follow-up process. 

2. Fear of the potential legal implications of reporting. 

3. Complex reporting system. 

4. Lack of encouragement from colleagues and management. 

5. Improper handling of reporter confidentiality.

6. Lack of time to report.

Using Incident Management Software 

The traditional manual, paper-based incident reporting system can be the very reason you don't enjoy the enormous benefits associated with incident reporting. Manual incident reporting is often a time-consuming and error-prone process with many limitations. 

Maximize the advantage of incident reporting by using incident management software. It helps you collect, store and process incident data. 

With incident management software, you can easily spot patterns, identify problems and proffer solutions to the issues facing your healthcare facility.

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