Tracking patient safety data: 6 reasons to stop using spreadsheets

April 12, 2016 Stephanie Radcliffe

For smaller hospitals or healthcare facilities with a manageable amount of patient safety data, spreadsheets can be a great tool. You can calculate formulas and tabulate data quickly. They’re an easy place to collect information and do basic statistical analysis: but then what? Here are 6 reasons you should stop using spreadsheets to track your patient safety reports.

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  1. You still need a form to submit. Spreadsheets are great for compiling large amounts of data. But when something happens (adverse event, patient complaint, etc.) you need a form for the front-line staff to describe what happened. Since the form and spreadsheet aren’t linked, someone has to transpose that data into the spreadsheet. That’s additional work—and more opportunities for mistakes.

  2. Trending and analysis is limited. You have all this data – what do you do with it? If you see a trend, you can make changes to improve processes but then you’ll have to track those improvements in yet another spreadsheet! Comprehensive patient safety software helps you take your data and learn from it: perform a root cause analysis, build a process improvement plan, collaborate on a peer review, etc.

  3. There's no audit trail. Electronic reporting software, like RL6, shows you who made changes to a file. You can’t track that in Excel! If you need more information on an event, software makes it easier to know who to follow-up with for more details.

  4. It's difficult to track follow-up & share results. Spreadsheets make it easy to share data by attaching a file to an email or posting reports on a bulletin board. But what comes next? With software, you can easily track the follow-up actions on file—and see if someone isn’t following up in a timely manner. This is especially important when you’re responding to grievances.

  5. There are no alerts. Not all errors are created equal. Certain events require faster follow-up, such as an employee needle stick or Narcan administration. When events are entered into software, you can receive alerts in real-time (TIP: the really useful software lets you customize those alerts and even receive them on your phone). If you wait for the data to be entered into a spreadsheet, odds are that the patient is long gone by the time you find out, limiting the opportunity for service recovery.

  6. Spreadsheets are prone to errors. Acute-care hospitals are complex environments and many factors can contribute to staff making mistakes. Automating the incident reporting process eliminates potentially dangerous human errors that can happen every day. RL6 even links with other systems like ADT so you have to type out the same data every time.

Did we say 6 reasons? Scratch that, here's a bonus reason why spreadsheets aren't telling you everything you need to know about your patient safety data.

They're not scalable: Incident reporting software isn’t just for capturing adverse events. For example, Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre needed a tool to accurately collect the information gathered during walkarounds. The hospital wanted something to track its progress, report on the data and promote a fast turnaround of the priority issues. The walkarounds support team also required status reports and trend charts that identify underlying issues.

After years of using Excel spreadsheets, RL worked with Sunnybrook to adapted its patient feedback software to monitor activities related to walkarounds. Sunnybrook spent two months customizing Feedback to adapt it for use with walkarounds, using its existing spreadsheets and adapted them to fit the structures of Feedback. Read the full case study

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