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Productive safety for Emergency Departments

Macquarie University

  • Early-Mid Career Fellowship
Date Funded:
  • 2 February, 2017
Chief Investigator/s:
  • Dr. Robyn Clay-Williams

This project will address an internationally-important healthcare problem in hospital emergency departments: with a surging demand for services, how can we ensure a safe environment for patients while still maintaining throughput?

In the first quarter of 2016 there were 672,483 presentations to NSW emergency departments (EDs) – a 9 per cent increase in triage Category 1 patients, and a 4 per cent increase in presentations overall compared with 2015. Despite introduction of National Emergency Access Targets across Australia in 2010, 25 per cent of patients were not ‘seen on time’ in accordance with Australasian Triage Scale standards, and 26 per cent of visits were not concluded within 4 hours. Increasing numbers of patient presentations, coupled with limited in-patient bed capacity, can result in long waiting times and prolonged lengths of stay in the ED. Overcrowding is becoming more prevalent, and has been associated with an increase in medical errors and poor patient outcomes, including death.

When EDs get overloaded, things are more likely to go wrong (e.g diagnostic errors, medication errors, delayed treatment). The processes we put in place to prevent errors from occurring often add to workload in the ED, paradoxically making it even more likely that things will go wrong. A new way to solve this dilemma is to shift our focus from preventing things going wrong, to increasing the number of things that go right. We call this ‘productive safety’. The purpose of this project is to design and implement ED processes to improve productive safety in NSW public hospitals. This project will seek to identify key quantitative and qualitative measures that are predictive of productive safety in response to unexpected events and periods of peak patient demand in the ED. Based on these measures, processes will be developed for assessing and improving productive safety. By doing so, we will assist ED leaders and clinicians to evaluate their organisation, and implement action to improve the number of things that go right when faced with challenging or unanticipated conditions. Such a proactive effort is likely to strengthen ED responses to threats and crises, and thereby save money and lives.

The project aims are to:
1. establish baseline measurement of productive safety in EDs in NSW public hospitals
2. refine productive safety processes, following an in-depth study of two NSW ED cases
3. develop a suite of context-dependent and generic tools to support re-design of processes to improve productive safety in EDs in NSW public hospitals.