Patient safety practices, targeting organisational changes for improving patient safety, are implemented worldwide but their costs are rarely evaluated. This paper provides a review of the methods used in economic evaluation of such practices. International medical and economics databases were searched for peer-reviewed publications on economic evaluations of patient safety between 2000 and 2010 in English and French. This was complemented by a manual search of the reference lists of relevant papers. Grey literature was excluded. Studies were described using a standardised template and assessed independently by two researchers according to six quality criteria. 33 articles were reviewed that were representative of different patient safety domains, data types and evaluation methods. 18 estimated the economic burden of adverse events, 3 measured the costs of patient safety practices and 12 provided complete economic evaluations. Healthcare-associated infections were the most common subject of evaluation, followed by medication-related errors and all types of adverse events. Of these, 10 were selected that had adequately fulfilled one or several key quality criteria for illustration. This review shows that full cost–benefit/utility evaluations are rarely completed as they are resource intensive and often require unavailable data; some overcome these difficulties by performing stochastic modelling and by using secondary sources. Low methodological transparency can be a problem for building evidence from available economic evaluations. Investing in the economic design and reporting of studies with more emphasis on defining study perspectives, data collection and methodological choices could be helpful for strengthening our knowledge base on practices for improving patient safety.
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Funding This research project was partly funded by DREES (Direction de la recherche, des études, de l'évaluation et des statistiques), the Evaluation and Statistics Department of the French Ministry of Health.
Competing interests None.
Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.
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