Inpatient patient safety events in vulnerable populations: A retrospective cohort study

Lucy B. Schulson, Victor Novack, Patricia H. Folcarelli, Jennifer P. Stevens, Bruce E. Landon

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


Background Widespread attention to structural racism has heightened interest in disparities in the quality of care delivered to racial/ethnic minorities and other vulnerable populations. These groups may also be at increased risk of patient safety events. Objective To examine differences in inpatient patient safety events for vulnerable populations defined by race/ethnicity, insurance status and limited English proficiency (LEP). Design Retrospective cohort study. Setting Single tertiary care academic medical centre. Participants Inpatient admissions of those aged ≥18 years from 1 October 2014 to 31 December 2018. Measurements Primary exposures of interest were self-identified race/ethnicity, Medicaid insurance/uninsured and LEP. The primary outcome of interest was the total number of patient safety events, defined as any event identified by a modified version of the Institute for Healthcare Improvement global trigger tool that automatically identifies patient safety events ('automated') from the electronic record or by the hospital-wide voluntary provider reporting system ('voluntary'). Negative binomial models were used to adjust for demographic and clinical factors. We also stratified results by automated and voluntary. Results We studied 141 877 hospitalisations, of which 13.6% had any patient safety event. In adjusted analyses, Asian race/ethnicity was associated with a lower event rate (incident rate ratio (IRR) 0.89, 95% CI 0.83 to 0.96); LEP patients had a lower risk of any patient safety event and voluntary events (IRR 0.91, 95% CI 0.87 to 0.96; IRR 0.89, 95% CI 0.85 to 0.94). Asian and Latino race/ethnicity were also associated with a lower rate of voluntary events but no difference in risk of automated events. Black race was associated with an increased risk of automated events (IRR 1.11, 95% CI 1.03 to 1.20). Limitations This is a single centre study. Conclusions A commonly used method for monitoring patient safety problems, namely voluntary incident reporting, may underdetect safety events in vulnerable populations.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)372-379
Number of pages8
JournalBMJ Quality and Safety
Issue number5
StatePublished - 1 May 2021
Externally publishedYes


  • hospital medicine
  • incident reporting
  • patient safety

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health Policy


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