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A Cross-Sectional Study on the Relationship Between Utilization of Root Cause Analysis and Patient Safety at 139 Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Centers

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Background: Empirical evidence is limited that root cause analysis (RCA), an event analysis tool used in health care to evaluate the systemic factors that lead to adverse events, improves patient safety. A cross-sectional study was conducted to examine the relationship between RCA and patient safety.

Methods: RCA data were collected for the 139 Department of Veteran Affairs medical centers (VAMCs) in the National Center for Patient Safety database from 2004 through 2006. Participants were divided into three RCA utilization categories on the basis of their yearly RCA rate: (1) fewer than 4 RCAs, (2) 4 to 5 RCAs, and (3) 6 or more RCAs per year. An analysis of variance was conducted of each Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality Patient Safety Indicators (PSIs) across the three RCA utilization categories.

Results: Facilities completed between 3 and 59 RCAs in the three-year period (mean RCA utilization rate, 4.86 RCAs per year). In this period, RCA actions by facility ranged from 9 to 323 (mean, 28 actions per year per facility). Mean patient-days of care, facility budget, surgical volume, and the number of strong improvement actions were significantly different across RCA utilization categories. The mean rates of PSI 9 (Postoperative Hemorrhage or Hematoma), PSI 10 (Postoperative Physiologic and Metabolic Derangements), and PSI 13 (Postoperative Sepsis) were significantly different across RCA utilization categories.

Conclusions: Large, high-spending VAMCs conduct more RCAs per year than smaller, low-spending facilities. VAMCs that do more RCAs develop more corrective actions. VAMCs that complete fewer than four RCAs per year have higher rates of postoperative complications. It is unclear if RCAs are associated with a functional patient safety program or directly improve patient safety.

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 2013-01-01

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  • Published monthly, The Joint Commission Journal on Quality and Patient Safety is a peer-reviewed publication dedicated to providing health professionals with the information they need to promote the quality and safety of health care. The Joint Commission Journal on Quality and Patient Safety invites original manuscripts on the development, adaptation, and/or implementation of innovative thinking, strategies, and practices in improving quality and safety in health care. Case studies, program or project reports, reports of new methodologies or new applications of methodologies, research studies on the effectiveness of improvement interventions, and commentaries on issues and practices are all considered.

    David W. Baker, MD, MPH, FACP, executive vice president for the Division of Healthcare Quality Evaluation at The Joint Commission, is the inaugural editor-in-chief of The Joint Commission Journal on Quality and Patient Safety.

    Also known as Joint Commission Journal on Quality Improvement and Joint Commission Journal on Quality and Safety
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