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Patient safety in primary care: more data and more action needed

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A better understanding of patient safety threats and incidents is needed to inform preventive action

Although most health care services are delivered in the community-based primary care sector, little is known about medical errors and near misses (here referred to as patient safety threats) and the consequent adverse events and harms (here referred to as patient safety incidents) in primary care. In Australia, research and data on patient safety comes almost exclusively from the hospital sector. The common assumption is that the problem is at least as common in primary care as in other areas of medical practice, but there is currently no mechanism to capture and analyse national data. A better understanding of patient safety threats and incidents in primary care is needed, along with resources to enable preventive action.

In Australia, little is known of patient risks of harm in primary care, and the few studies that have been done in this area are dated. Given the size of the sector, the diversity of providers, the frequency with which people access services, and the central role of primary care in the system, it is essential that the quality and safety of primary care are continuously improved and efforts made to prevent patient safety incidents. However, there is currently no mechanism to capture and analyse national data, and there is no agreed taxonomy to underpin effective incident monitoring; although as far back as 1997,…

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