Hospitals face ongoing pressure to reduce patient safety events. However, given resource constraints, hospitals must prioritize their safety improvements. There is limited literature on how hospitals select their safety priorities.
The aim of this research was to describe and compare the approaches used by Veterans Health Administration (VA) hospitals to select their safety priorities.
Semistructured telephone interviews with key informants (n = 16) were used to collect data on safety priorities in four VA hospitals from May to December 2016. We conducted a directed content analysis of the interview notes using an organizational learning perspective. We coded for descriptive data on the approaches (e.g., set of cues, circumstances, and activities) used to select safety priorities, a priori organizational learning capabilities (learning processes, learning environment, and learning-oriented leadership), and emergent domains. For cross-site comparisons, we examined the coded data for patterns.
All hospitals used multiple approaches to select their safety priorities; these approaches used varied across hospitals. Although no single approach was reported as particularly influential, all hospitals used approaches that addressed system level or national requirements (i.e., externally required activities). Additional approaches used by hospitals (e.g., responding to staff concerns of patient safety issues, conducting a multidisciplinary team investigation) were less connected to externally required activities and demonstrated organizational learning capabilities in learning processes (e.g., performance monitoring), learning environment (e.g., staff’s psychological safety), and learning-oriented leadership (e.g., establishing a nonpunitive culture).
Leaders should examine the approaches used to select safety priorities and the role of organizational learning in these selection approaches. Exclusively relying on approaches focused on externally required activities may fail to identify safety priorities that are locally relevant but not established as significant at the system or national levels. Organizational learning may promote hospitals’ use of varied approaches to guide their selection of safety priorities and thereby benefit hospital safety improvement efforts.