Health policies and data

Health Care Quality Indicators - Patient Safety


Patient safety remains one of the most prominent issues in health policy and public debate. High rates of errors during the delivery of medical care have been demonstrated repeatedly, including the landmark report by the Institute of Medicine which estimated that more people die from medical errors than from traffic injuries or breast cancer.

Two types of patient safety event can be distinguished: sentinel events that should never occur such as failure to remove surgical foreign bodies (e.g. gauze swabs) at the end of a procedure; and adverse events, such as post-operative sepsis, which can never be fully avoided given the high-risk nature of some procedures, although increased incidence at an aggregate level may indicate a systemic failing.

The HCQI collects internationally comparable data on both types of event. At present, patient safety HCQI include rates of:

  • retained surgical device or fragment
  • post-operative wound dehiscence
  • post-operative pulmonary embolism or deep vein thrombosis
  • post-operative sepsis
  • obstetric trauma

Work on patient safety HCQI is underpinned by a continuous programme of research and development to improve international comparability of these indicators.

The Economics of Patient Safety

Measuring-Patient-Safety ‌

Measuring Patient Safety - Opening the Black Box
OECD Policy Brief - Released April 30, 2018

This Policy Brief outlines the key ways to better measure patient harm to improve safety across health systems – from primary, ambulatory and community care, to acute and long-term care. The work was undertaken by the OECD ELS Health Division for the 3rd Global Ministerial Summit on Patient Safety in Tokyo, in April 2018.

The work was enabled by a voluntary contribution from the Japanese Ministry of Health, Labour & Welfare.



The Economics of Patient Safety: Strengthening a Value-based Approach to Reducing Patient Harm at National Level
OECD Health Working Papers No. 96 - Released June 26, 2017

About one in ten patients are harmed during health care. This paper estimates the health, financial and economic costs of this harm. Results indicate that patient harm exerts a considerable global health burden. The financial cost on health systems is also considerable and if the flow-on economic consequences such as lost productivity and income are included the costs of harm run into trillions of dollars annually. Because many of the incidents that cause harm can be prevented, these failures represent a considerable waste of healthcare resources, and the cost of failure dwarfs the investment required to implement effective prevention.

The paper then examines how patient harm can be minimised effectively and efficiently. This is informed by a snapshot survey of a panel of eminent academic and policy experts in patient safety. System- and organisational-level initiatives were seen as vital to provide a foundation for the more local interventions targeting specific types of harm. The overarching requirement was a culture conducive to safety.


The HCQI indicators are published within Health at a Glance 2017: Chapter 6 on Quality and Outcomes of Care.

Additional indicators are also available in the OECD Health Statistics database in the Health Care Quality Indicators dataset in OECD.Stat in the query Patient Safety.



Ian Brownwood: [email protected]