Skip Navigation Archive: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
Archive: Agency for Healthcare Research Quality
Archive print banner

New AHRQ Web-based Tool Offers Hospitals Quick Checkup on Patient Safety

This information is for reference purposes only. It was current when produced and may now be outdated. Archive material is no longer maintained, and some links may not work. Persons with disabilities having difficulty accessing this information should contact us at: Let us know the nature of the problem, the Web address of what you want, and your contact information.

Please go to for current information.

Press Release Date: March 13, 2003

The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality has developed a new Web-based tool that can help hospitals enhance their patient safety performance by quickly detecting potential medical errors in patients who have undergone medical or surgical care. Hospitals then investigate to determine whether the problems detected were caused by potentially preventable medical errors or have some other explanations.

"The first step in reducing the nation's toll of medical errors is to identify when they occur and why, and then develop strategies to improve patient safety. This goal is central to efforts to combat this problem," said Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy G. Thompson., who announced the AHRQ Patient Safety Indicators this morning at the National Patient Safety Foundation 5th Annual Congress in Washington, D.C.

The Patient Safety Indicators at are part of a major AHRQ program to improve the safety of patients in hospitals, outpatient care, and other medical settings. The program also includes research to develop ways to prevent medical errors and a Web-based medical journal that showcases patient safety lessons drawn from actual cases of medical errors.

The Patient Safety Indicators tool contains of a set of measures that use secondary diagnosis codes to detect 26 types of adverse events, such as complications of anesthesia, blood clots in the legs or lungs following surgery, fracture following surgery, and four types of birth-related injuries.

Six of these indicators can be calculated as either a hospital-level or an area-level indicator. Area-level indicators use principal and secondary diagnosis codes to capture all cases of potentially preventable complications that occur within a specific geographic area and include foreign bodies left during a procedure, hospital-acquired pneumonia, infection from medical care, technical difficulty with a procedure, and reaction to blood transfusion. Evaluating these indicators by geographic region can help policymakers and providers identify differences in the occurrence of health care complications by individual counties or Metropolitan Statistical Areas.

Although the indicators were developed primarily for hospitals to use in their quality improvement programs, other kinds of organizations will find the tool useful. For example, hospital associations can show member hospitals how they perform for each indicator when compared with their peer group, the state as a whole, or other comparable states.

The Patient Safety Indicators were developed and validated by the AHRQ-funded UCSF-Stanford Evidence-based Practice Center with the help of eight panels of clinicians nominated by 21 professional societies, including the American College of Physicians-American Society of Internal Medicine, American College of Surgeons, American College of Cardiology, and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.

The tool can be downloaded free of charge from AHRQ's Web site, but it requires the use of SAS or SPSS software, which are commercially available statistical programs. For technical questions on the content and use of the Patient Safety Indicators, please contact AHRQ at

Note to Editors: For a recent study demonstrating the use of the Patient Safety Indicators, see "A National Profile of Patient Safety in U.S. Hospitals Based on Administrative Data," by Patrick Romano, Jeffrey Geppert, Sheryl Davies, and others in the March 2003 issue of Health Affairs.

For more information, please contact AHRQ Public Affairs, (301) 427-1364: Bob Isquith, (301) 427-1539 (; Farah Englert (301) 427-1865 (


The information on this page is archived and provided for reference purposes only.


AHRQ Advancing Excellence in Health Care