Tools for primary care patient safety: A narrative review

Rachel Spencer, Stephen Campbell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

38 Citations (Scopus)
20 Downloads (Pure)


Background: Patient safety in primary care is a developing field with an embryonic but evolving evidence base. This narrative review aims to identify tools that can be used by family practitioners as part of a patient safety toolkit to improve the safety of the care and services provided by their practices. Methods: Searches were performed in 6 healthcare databases in 2011 using 3 search stems; location (primary care), patient safety synonyms and outcome measure synonyms. Two reviewers analysed the results using a numerical and thematic analyses. Extensive grey literature exploration was also conducted. Results: Overall, 114 Tools were identified with 26 accrued from grey literature. Most published literature originated from the USA (41%) and the UK (23%) within the last 10 years. Most of the literature addresses the themes of medication error (55%) followed by safety climate (8%) and adverse event reporting (8%). Minor themes included; informatics (4.5%) patient role (3%) and general measures to correct error (5%). The primary/secondary care interface is well described (5%) but few specific tools for primary care exist. Diagnostic error and results handling appear infrequently (<1% of total literature) despite their relative importance. The remainder of literature (11%) related to referrals, Out-Of-Hours (OOH) care, telephone care, organisational issues, mortality and clerical error. Conclusions: This review identified tools and indicators that are available for use in family practice to measure patient safety, which is crucial to improve safety and design a patient safety toolkit. However, many of the tools have yet to be used in quality improvement strategies and cycles such as plan-do-study-act (PDSA) so there is a dearth of evidence of their utility in improving as opposed to measuring and highlighting safety issues. The lack of focus on diagnostics, systems safety and results handling provide direction and priorities for future research.

Original languageEnglish
Article number166
Pages (from-to)1-8
Number of pages8
JournalBMC Family Practice
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 26 Oct 2014
Externally publishedYes


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