Apparent Cause Analysis: A Safety Tool

Causal analysis is a core function of safety programs. Although established protocols exist for conducting root cause analysis for serious safety events, there is limited guidance for apparent cause analysis (ACA) in health care. At our institution, through a novel facilitated ACA approach, we aim to improve safety culture and provide a clear approach to address precursor safety events and near-miss safety events. We define facilitated ACA as limited investigation (scope and duration) of a safety event that resulted in little to no harm. These investigations require fewer resources and focus on preventive strategies. Our facilitated ACA model, with an operational algorithm and structured process, was developed and implemented at our tertiary-care, freestanding, urban pediatric hospital in 2018. Sixty-four ACAs were completed, and 83% were identified with the algorithm. Process measures, including time from event reporting to ACA launch (median 3 days; interquartile range 2–6 days), are tracked. Patient safety consultants averaged 5 hours to complete a facilitated ACA. A median of 3 disciplines or departments participated in each facilitated ACA. Through an iterative process, we implemented a structured process for facilitated ACA, and the model’s strength includes (1) right event, (2) right team, (3) right analysis, and (4) right action plans. This novel facilitated ACA model may support organizational cause analysis and improve safety culture with higher-reliability processes.

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