A coordinated regulatory approach is critical for improved patient safety

Published 24 March 2023

Lapses in safety and quality have a considerable impact on patients and health systems – causing thousands of preventable deaths and requiring governments and health insurers to spend billions of dollars funding adverse events arising from preventable incidents. For publicly funded systems with nearly universal healthcare, the costs associated with managing adverse events can have serious consequences for access to affordable, timely and safe treatment.

Globally, professional bodies, employers and insurers have mandated continuous professional development (CPD) for health professionals in an effort to improve and maintain standards in quality and safety. In Australia, new CPD and clinical governance standards encourage health professionals and health service organisations to leverage health data for practice reflection and performance management. Activities otherwise known as practice analytics. Data-driven performance feedback has the potential to improve the quality of care by highlighting comparative performance, and issues of patient safety by identifying variation and possible sub-standard care. Performance management is thus essential to realising the global vision of safe, equitable and evidence-based health care.

Some health professionals have expressed their concerns about data quality, use and disclosure when using health data for performance feedback. Most of these concerns are centred on the misinterpretation of clinical narratives particularly in light of litigation; fears that are increasingly addressed through defensive practices that can have an adverse impact on patients, health professionals, and hospital resources resulting in over-testing, over-diagnosis, and unnecessary hospitalisations.

The primary objective will be to develop a framework that addresses facilitators and barriers from the perspective of end-users with a specific focus on legal, ethical, and procedural barriers to use. This will serve as a high-impact, low-resource guide to assist health professionals and healthcare organisations to negotiate complex medico-legal and ethical issues surrounding practice analytics. This guidance could help improve patient care and the quality and safety of healthcare by aligning professional and community values in our regulatory response to secondary applications of health data.

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