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Patient Safety in Ambulatory Settings

Technical Brief Archived

Archived: This report is greater than 3 years old. Findings may be used for research purposes, but should not be considered current.


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Structured Abstract


Even though most medical care occurs in ambulatory settings, the patient safety movement originated in, and has been mainly focused on, adverse events in hospitalized patients. However, it is increasingly clear that the ambulatory setting is critically important. Ambulatory care differs substantially from inpatient care in ways that affect patient safety hazards and interventions. To better understand the scope of ambulatory care safety issues and the types of evaluations that have been reported for ambulatory patient safety practice (PSP), we have been tasked by AHRQ to provide an overview of key issues relating to the interventions.


This Technical Brief had the following guiding questions:

What are the evidence-based hospital patient safety practices that may be applicable to the ambulatory care setting? What are the ambulatory care patient safety practices that have been studied in the literature? Which ones have not been broadly implemented or studied beyond a single ambulatory care center?

What tools, settings, and other factors (such as implementation of Patient-Centered Medical Home and team-based care) may influence the implementation and spread of ambulatory care patient safety practices?


We integrated insights from discussions with eight Key Informants (KIs) with a literature scan of 28 safety topics/strategies.


KIs identified medication safety, diagnosis, transitions, referrals, and testing as important ambulatory care safety topics, and strategies that addressed communications, health IT, teams, patient engagement, organizational approaches, and safety culture as the most important strategies. The literature search found a moderate number of published intervention evaluations for e-prescribing, medication errors and adverse events, pharmacist-based interventions, and transitions from hospital to ambulatory care. There were few published evaluations of interventions for other targets/strategies. These results will assist AHRQ in developing a research agenda in ambulatory patient safety.

Summary and Implications

Both key informant interviews and the literature scan reveal important differences between inpatient and ambulatory safety. There are significant gaps in ambulatory safety research, including a notable lack of studies on patient engagement and timely and accurate diagnosis. Key informants recommend prospective, large-scale studies in diverse ambulatory settings to develop and test ambulatory safety interventions.