Article Text

Setting priorities for patient safety
  1. W B Runciman1,2,
  2. M J Edmonds3,
  3. M Pradhan2,3
  1. 1Professor and Head, Department of Anaesthesia and Intensive Care, Royal Adelaide Hospital and University of Adelaide, Adelaide, South Australia
  2. 2Australian Patient Safety Foundation, Adelaide, South Australia
  3. 3Department of Health Informatics, Faculty of Medicine, University of Adelaide, Adelaide, South Australia
  1. Correspondence to:
 Professor W B Runciman, Department of Anaesthesia and Intensive Care, Royal Adelaide Hospital, North Terrace, Adelaide, South Australia 5000;


Background: Current “flags” for adverse events (AEs) are biased towards those with serious outcomes, potentially leading to failure to address mundane common problems.

Aim: To provide a basis for setting priorities to improve patient safety by ranking adverse events by resource consumption as well as by outcome. This was done by classifying a set of AEs, according to how they may be prevented, into “Principal Natural Categories” (PNCs).

Setting: AEs associated with a representative sample of admissions to Australian acute care hospitals.

Design: AEs were classified into PNCs which were ranked by overall frequency, an index of resource consumption (a function of mean extended hospital stay and the number of cases in each PNC), and severity of outcome.

Results: The 1712 AEs analysed fell into 581 PNCs; only 28% had more than two cases. Most resource use (60%) was by AEs which led to minor disabilities, 36% was by those which led to major disabilities, and 4% by those associated with death. Most of the events with serious outcomes fell into fewer than 50 PNCs; only seven of these PNCs had more than six cases resulting in serious outcomes.

Conclusions: If interventions for AEs are triggered only by serious outcomes by, for example, using recommended risk scoring methods, most problems would not be addressed, particularly the large number of mundane problems which consume the majority of resources. Both serious and mundane problems should be addressed. Most types of events occur too infrequently to be characterised at a hospital level and require large scale (preferably national) collections of incidents and events.

  • patient safety
View Full Text

Statistics from

Supplementary materials

    Setting priorities for patient safety
    W B Runciman, M J Edmonds, and M Pradhan

    Web-only Table
    Appendix: Outcomes for all principal natural categories

    [View PDF]


    Request Permissions

    If you wish to reuse any or all of this article please use the link below which will take you to the Copyright Clearance Center’s RightsLink service. You will be able to get a quick price and instant permission to reuse the content in many different ways.