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Elwy AR, Bokhour BG, Maguire EM, Wagner TH, Asch SM, Gifford AL, Gallagher TH, Durfee JM, Martinello RA, Schiffner S, Jesse RL. Improving healthcare systems' disclosures of large-scale adverse events: a Department of Veterans Affairs leadership, policymaker, research and stakeholder partnership. Journal of general internal medicine. 2014 Dec 1; 29 Suppl 4:895-903.
BACKGROUND: The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) mandates disclosure of large-scale adverse events to patients, even if risk of harm is not clearly present. Concerns about past disclosures warranted further examination of the impact of this policy. OBJECTIVE: Through a collaborative partnership between VA leaders, policymakers, researchers and stakeholders, the objective was to empirically identify critical aspects of disclosure processes as a first step towards improving future disclosures. DESIGN: Semi-structured interviews were conducted with participants at nine VA facilities where recent disclosures took place. PARTICIPANTS: Ninety-seven stakeholders participated in the interviews: 38 employees, 28 leaders (from facilities, regions and national offices), 27 Veteran patients and family members, and four congressional staff members. APPROACH: Facility and regional leaders were interviewed by telephone, followed by a two-day site visit where employees, patients and family members were interviewed face-to-face. National leaders and congressional staff also completed telephone interviews. Interviews were analyzed using rapid qualitative assessment processes. Themes were mapped to the stages of the Crisis and Emergency Risk Communication model: pre-crisis, initial event, maintenance, resolution and evaluation. KEY RESULTS: Many areas for improvement during disclosure were identified, such as preparing facilities better (pre-crisis), creating rapid communications, modifying disclosure language, addressing perceptions of harm, reducing complexity, and seeking assistance from others (initial event), managing communication with other stakeholders (maintenance), minimizing effects on staff and improving trust (resolution), and addressing facilities' needs (evaluation). CONCLUSIONS: Through the partnership, five recommendations to improve disclosures during each stage of communication have been widely disseminated throughout the VA using non-academic strategies. Some improvements have been made; other recommendations will be addressed through implementation of a large-scale adverse event disclosure toolkit. These toolkit strategies will enable leaders to provide timely and transparent information to patients and families, while reducing the burden on employees and the healthcare system during these events.