Approaches to reducing the most important patient errors in primary health-care: patient and professional perspectives

Stephen Buetow*, Liz Kiata, Tess Liew, Tim Kenealy, Susan Dovey, Glyn Elwyn

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


We have previously reported a preliminary taxonomy of patient error. However, approaches to managing patients' contribution to error have received little attention in the literature. This paper aims to assess how patients and primary care professionals perceive the relative importance of different patient errors as a threat to patient safety. It also attempts to suggest what these groups believe may be done to reduce the errors, and how. It addresses these aims through original research that extends the nominal group analysis used to generate the error taxonomy. Interviews were conducted with 11 purposively selected groups of patients and primary care professionals in Auckland, New Zealand, during late 2007. The total number of participants was 83, including 64 patients. Each group ranked the importance of possible patient errors identified through the nominal group exercise. Approaches to managing the most important errors were then discussed. There was considerable variation among the groups in the importance rankings of the errors. Our general inductive analysis of participants' suggestions revealed the content of four inter-related actions to manage patient error: Grow relationships; Enable patients and professionals to recognise and manage patient error; be Responsive to their shared capacity for change; and Motivate them to act together for patient safety. Cultivation of this GERM of safe care was suggested to benefit from 'individualised community care'. In this approach, primary care professionals individualise, in community spaces, population health messages about patient safety events. This approach may help to reduce patient error and the tension between personal and population health-care.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)296-303
JournalHealth & Social Care in the Community
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - May 2010


  • community health-care
  • patient perspectives
  • patient safety
  • primary health-care

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