Most healthcare professionals are familiar with Datix incident reporting software. But how and why has Datix become associated with fear and blame? Datix’s former chief executive and now chairman of Patient Safety Learning, Jonathan Hazan, looks at why this has come about and what needs to be done to improve incident reporting.
This year I’m seeing many more complaints on Twitter from healthcare professionals about the misuse of incident reporting. The threat “I’m going to Datix you!” is coming up time and time again and people are complaining about being “datixed” inappropriately. One Twitter user recently said: “Datix has been used as a verb so many times on my feed today that my head might explode”. Datix has become associated with fear, retribution and blame. But how has this come about and what can be done to change it?
Datix as a company has seen many changes since I stood down as chief executive in 2015. The most noticeable is a change of name to RLDatix, reflecting the acquisition in 2018 of Canadian rival RL Solutions. Some things, however, have not changed. Healthcare professionals still complain about the length and complexity of the Datix forms. They still complain about the lack of action from the incident reports they submit. They still complain about getting into trouble as a result of reporting an incident themselves (particularly reports about staffing levels). And they still complain about the threat of someone else including them in an incident report as a means of coercion: “If you don’t do this, I’m going to Datix you.” All of these factors are also common to incident reporting systems from other suppliers, but because Datix has the lion’s share of the UK market, they have contributed to an overwhelmingly negative sentiment about Datix.
The problem with complicated and contradictory forms is that Datix gives local administrators complete freedom to design the forms themselves. This results in forms that get longer and longer over time, as new people need to collect new information. The best forms I’ve seen are very short and contain the date, the time, the reporter’s details and free text boxes for a description of what happened and what action was taken. The very best forms I’ve seen have an additional free text box: “Your safety ideas”, asking the reporter if they can think of any ways that this type of incident could be avoided or mitigated in the future. It’s a good way to encourage people to think about safety; however, it does rely on someone at the other end of the report actually listening and responding.
The issue with the lack of feedback is that it relies on someone following up, investigating and then reporting back on the incident. Or if the incident isn’t going to be investigated, the reporter should be sent an explanation. If reporters don’t get any feedback and can’t see any changes made as a result of reporting, they’re going to stop reporting. This is not a problem with the incident reporting software, but an issue of the system within which it is used.
The issue of the threat and fear of reporting is more deep-seated and harder to change. It’s partly linked to the other two issues – if incident reporting has no positive outcomes, it’s seen only as a burden and a tool for punishment. It’s also a symptom of a culture of fear, bullying and a lack of resources, where stressed managers want to discourage the reporting of incidents as they don’t have the time or resources to do anything about them. There are constant calls for culture change. But culture change is difficult and it’s hard to know where to start. We can, however, take incremental actions that contribute to a shift in culture.
One example is the former Calgary Health Region in Canada, which had a culture where incident reporting was being used for performance management, with managers reprimanding staff who reported incidents. Recognising this was having a bad effect on staff and patients, Calgary Health Region reconfigured Datix so that the managers couldn’t see information that would identify the reporters. This didn’t change the culture overnight, but it gave staff confidence that they could report incidents in an environment free from punishment. Coupled with the setting up of a separate central department responsible for safety and investigations, this set the organisation on the long road to culture change. An excellent write up of the system that Calgary implemented can be found here.
Would that system work here in the NHS? Yes it would help, but it doesn’t go far enough in a system where incident reporting has got such a bad name. We need something much more radical. What if we were to abolish incident reporting completely?
Automated incident reporting systems
This doesn’t mean we have to remove investigation and learning from the patient safety toolkit. It does mean that we can obtain information about incidents from places other than manually input incident report forms. The technology already exists to do this. We can monitor a hospital’s IT systems in real time to see if an incident had happened or for signs that an incident was about to happen. There would be no need to replace existing incident management systems, just the method of getting the incidents into the systems and a change to the processes around them.
Such an automated incident reporting system already exists – again, in Canada – at The Ottawa Hospital. The hospital devised rules, called e-triggers, that automatically create an incident record based on certain criteria in other hospital IT systems. One such trigger might be a return to the emergency department within three days. The creation of the incident record also sends a notification to a clinician to review the record and answer some simple questions to determine if a follow up or investigation is needed. You can read some of the results from the system in this BMJ Quality & Safety paper.
Although they haven’t done away with incident forms completely, this is a step in the right direction. I don’t know of anyone who has done anything similar here in the NHS, but I believe this system would go a long way towards the goal of eliminating the threat of “I’m going to Datix you”.
A call to action
- Set up triggers to automatically send potential incidents from other IT systems into existing patient safety reporting systems. Software suppliers should take the lead on this.
- Simplify current incident report forms so they are as quick as possible to complete.
- Give clear guidance on what incident reporting should and should not be used for, with assurances that no one will get into trouble for reporting an incident or being included in an incident report.
Do you have any ideas on how we can improve incident reporting and prevent the threat of “I’m going to Datix you”? Please join the discussion on the hub.
About the Author
Jonathan is chair of the board of trustees of Patient Safety Learning and a hub topic lead. He was chief executive of Datix from 2009 to 2015 and now spends his time on patient safety charity work and advising healthcare and technology startups.