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Promoting patient safety through prospective risk identification: example from peri-operative care


Background Investigation of patient safety incidents has focused on retrospective analyses once incidents have occurred. Prospective risk analysis techniques complement this but have not been widely used in healthcare.

Study Design Prospective risk identification of non-operative risks associated with adult elective surgery under general anaesthesia using a customised structured “what if” checklist and development of risk matrix. Prioritisation of recommendations arising by cost, ease and likely speed of implementation.

Participants and Setting Groups totalling 20 clinical and administrative healthcare staff involved in peri-operative care and risk experts convened by the UK National Patient Safety Agency.

Findings 102 risks were identified and 95 recommendations made. The top 20 recommendations together were judged to encompass about 75% of the total estimated risk attributable to the processes considered. Staffing and organisational issues (21% of total estimated risk) included recommendations for removing distractions from the operating theatre, ensuring the availability of senior anaesthetists and promoting standards and flexible working among theatre staff. Devices and equipment (19% of total estimated risk) could be improved by training and standardisation; airway control and temperature monitoring were identified as two specific areas. Pre-assessment of patients before admission to hospital (12% of estimated risk) could be improved by defining a data set for adequate pre-assessment and making this available throughout the NHS.

Conclusions This technique can be successfully applied by healthcare staff but expert facilitation of groups is advisable. Such wider-ranging processes can potentially lead to more comprehensive risk reduction than “single-issue” risk alerts.

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