The health care industry has come a long way from the days when incident reports were not routinely filed. Due to the emergence of intuitive and accessible technology, this is a thing of the past and incident reports now play a critical role in improving safety.

Most hospitals have instilled a culture of safety that empowers staff to document incidents and near misses. Hospitals routinely track the most frequently occurring events and their contributing factors to identify trends, take appropriate action, and ultimately prevent similar incidents from happening in the future.

Capturing incident data has led to significant improvements in patient safety and loss prevention. What could this data do for your facility? Can you benchmark incidents regionally – or on a larger scale? What can be shared with others to universally improve safety for health care providers and patients?

This data can literally save lives. All it takes are three easy steps to improve your incident reporting:

1. Discovery. What incident reporting process do you currently have in place?  Is it electronic?  Can you track by type of event and see trends? Do you perform Root Cause Analysis to identify what factors contributed to the incident?

A confusing process, hard-to-locate forms, or fear of being blamed are just a few of the reasons why incidents don’t get correctly reported. The key to preventing future problems is collecting accurate information about every incident and near miss since you can only act on what gets reported. You can then perform Root Cause Analysis to get to the bottom of why an incident happened.

The most effective incident reporting records data right at the source while the event is still fresh. Simplified templates and auto-filled fields make it easy to capture data consistently and thoroughly. It’s also important to create a fear-free environment by allowing reports to be submitted anonymously by anyone in the organization.

With the right information, you have a much greater chance of implementing safety measures in time to prevent future incidents – which will reduce costs. If your current system isn’t capturing what you need, investigate your options. There are electronic solutions available to suit any budget. The ROI on a good incident reporting software will be well worth any upfront cost.

2. Adoption. If you have an incident reporting system in place, how well has it been adopted?  Do you share statistics with your staff?  Sharing incident statistics can empower those on the frontline to proactively identify harmful situations.

For example, say a nurse discovered a mix-up with a look-alike or sound-alike drug. Maybe the pharmacy technician confused the drugs and incorrectly stocked the medication dispensing equipment. If you are that nurse, it is powerful to know you identified this problem and as a result, the pharmacy is packaging the drugs differently and has implemented a double sign-off for the meds before filling the order or stocking the unit.  Results matter.

There are a variety of ways to encourage your staff to document incidents and near misses.  You could have monthly contests to reward the unit/floor/department that captures the most near miss reports with a pizza party or recognize them in a newsletter or on posters. Get creative! Celebrate the drive for excellence in patient safety.

3. Communicate. Communication is the most powerful tool you’ve got – yet it often gets overlooked. But you can make drastic improvements in the organization just by communicating. Communicate to your staff about what measures have been taken to prevent an occurrence. Encourage your staff to report incidents and near misses, celebrate their successes, and learn from what gets documented. Seeing the end result is a powerful motivator for your staff to continue their efforts.

Effective incident reporting can unlock compelling information that has the power to change the way we practice medicine. And both patients and employees will be safer.