Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency - Identifying hot-spots of risk to improve healthcare quality and safety

Identifying hot-spots of risk to improve healthcare quality and safety

24 Apr 2015

A research project launched in December is using AHPRA data to track risks in order to prevent harm. The project has many potential benefits.

We’re all familiar with the way chronic illnesses like heart disease have been targeted through prevention campaigns. Why just wait to treat heart attacks as they come in the door of an emergency department, when you can understand the groups at people most at risk and find ways to reduce the likelihood of harm?

The research partnership between AHPRA and the National Boards and the University of Melbourne (which received funding support from the NHMRC announced in October 2014) takes elements of this approach and applies it to dealing with high-risk practitioners. The partnership is an important part of developing our risk-based approach to regulation of health practitioners.

One of only eight partnership grants awarded across Australia (and the only partnership grant awarded for the University of Melbourne), this three-year research project will be headed by physician and health lawyer Dr Marie Bismark and will involve staff from AHPRA and the Boards.

‘The project has a number of stages, with the first stage being about getting a dataset of all the notifications that have been received since AHPRA was established,’ Dr Bismark explains.

Once the dataset is created, the research team will do some analysis to work out hotspots of risk: groups of practitioners receiving a disproportionate share of notifications.

‘It could be specialty areas of practice, geographic pockets, or different age groups that are at risk of particular issues. It’s about mapping these out to see where the elevated risks are’, she says.

It’s a complex task, involving coding data about each notification, connecting that with information from the public register, and trying to classify the nature of harm. Once the team has identified 'hot-spots' of increased risk, the research team will liaise with Boards to identify which ones they'd like to pursue further.

‘After the Boards decide which issues to investigate, we’ll do a deep dive into the notifications information. We’ll look further into the causal factors and try to understand what could be done to prevent those risks.

‘It’s about working out whether we can build a fence at the top of the cliff and prevent harm before it happens’, Dr Bismark adds.

The notifications dataset will be regularly updated by AHPRA and made available to other approved researchers so the data team doesn’t have to start from scratch when a research request comes in, something Dr Bismark hopes will be an enduring benefit of the project.

‘I don’t know another regulator in the world that has data as comprehensive as AHPRA’s: across so many professions and jurisdictions, from students to retirement. It’s an absolute goldmine of information and I think we owe it to people to use it wisely and well.’

Page reviewed 24/04/2015