A comprehensive approach to preventing errors in a hospital setting: Organizational behavior management and patient safety

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Virginia Tech

Estimates of the number of U.S. deaths each year resulting from medical errors range from 44,000 (Institute of Medicine, 1999) to 195,000 (HealthGrades, 2004). Additionally, instances of medical harm are estimated to occur at a rate of approximately 15 million per year in the U.S., or about 40,000 per day (Institute for Healthcare Improvement, 2007).

Although several organizational behavior management (OBM) intervention techniques have been used to improve particular behaviors related to patient safety, there remains a lack of patient-safety-focused behavioral interventions among healthcare workers. OBM interventions are often applied to needs already identified within an organization, and the means by which these needs are determined vary across applications. The current research addresses gaps in the literature by applying a broad needs-assessment methodology to identify patient-safety intervention targets in a hospital and then translating OBM intervention techniques to identify and improve the prevention potential of responses to reported medical errors.

A content analysis of 17 months of descriptions of follow-up actions to error reports for nine types of the most-frequently-occurring errors was conducted. Follow-up actions were coded according to a taxonomy of behavioral intervention components, with accompanying prevention scores based on criteria developed by Geller et al. (1990). Two error types were selected for intervention; based on the highest frequency of reporting and lowest average follow-up prevention score. Over a three-month intervention period, managers were instructed to respond to these two error types with active communication, group feedback, and positive reinforcement strategies.

Results indicate improved prevention potential as a consequence of improved corrective action for targeted errors. Future implications for identifying and classifying responses to medical error are discussed.

Patient Safety, Organizational Behavior Management, Medical Error