Drilling Down Into A Patient Safety Elective Curriculum

In my last post, I gave an overview of the curriculum and structure for the Patient Safety elective we designed and offered at the University of Illinois College of Medicine. Each patient safety domain studied was covered through comprehensive and collective literature reviews addressing research questions with the guided focus I provided. The students then discussed their response online, furthering the groups critical thinking around each topic. I added additional “devil’s advocate” and real world comments to the discussions in order to push the critical thinking in each area.

An example of how a few of the patient safety topics (or domains) were studied in greater depth follows. Please share your curriculum content, or comment on how we can improve our course going forward.


The goal of this module was to (a) introduce the students to the adult, online learning methodology used in the elective, and (b) take what at first appears to be a simple task – defining “adverse event” – and show the students that the task is not as easy as it first appears. Because of a lack of harmonization of message from many of the leading safety and quality organizations through the years, we have had many different definitions offered up. As many say “if you can’t define it, you can’t measure it”.

Research Questions:

Healthcare frequently uses the term “adverse event” to describe different patient safety incidents or occurrences. Pharmaceutical companies use the term “adverse event” differently. Through a search of the literature and interactive discussion, students are expected to:

  1. Discuss different ways in which the term “adverse event” has been used.
  2. Come to a consensus definition of “adverse event.”


The goal of this module is to understand the history of the patient safety movement and the role the Institute of Medicine (IOM) has played in its evolution. Upon successful completion of this module, students will have:

  1. Learned about and discussed the IOM report “To Error is Human: Building a Safer Health System,” and the impact of the report on the patient safety movement.
  2. Discussed and gained a greater appreciation of the follow-up IOM reports, their conclusions and recommendations for safer healthcare.
  3. Identified key political, societal and regulatory drivers helping push the patient safety movement forward.

Research Questions:

Through a search of the literature and interactive discussion, each group of students will:

  1. Identify which studies the IOM used for their annual, preventable death rate conclusions?
  2. Discuss the validity of the IOM’s conclusions, and be able to defend the answer given.
  3. Discuss if/how leadership in politics, business and society effectively began implementing change after the first IOM report. Pick one of these three sectors – discuss and defend your position using specific examples based on a review of the literature.


Upon successful completion of this module, students should be able to:

  1. Articulate what other industries can teach us about creating conditions for delivering safe patient care.
  2. Describe the appropriate use of qualitative (i.e. focus groups, interviews, observations) and quantitative methods (i.e. risk and hazards analysis, FMEA, RCA, PRA) when assessing complex and hazardous operations.
  3. List key elements of creating effective reporting systems in healthcare.
  4. Identify key principles of High Reliability Organizations (HRO), and the risk management and hazard reduction tools that underlie the creation of a safety culture.

Research Questions:

  1. What are the key risk management concepts non-medical industries use to manage their high-risk operations?
  2. What is a safety culture and how can it help enable creating reliable and patient centered care?
  3. What can we learn from HRO research that can help inform patient safety practices in healthcare?

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