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Safety in home care: a mapping review of the international literature

02 Sep 2013


This integrative study on safety in home care provides a synopsis of evidence in the Canadian and international literature. The objectives of this study were to: (i) develop/test a comprehensive search strategy to locate the literature on harmful incidents (previously called adverse events (AEs)) in the home care environment to track emerging evidence; (ii) determine what has been documented about AEs in the home care setting; and (iii) catalogue definitions of safety in home care by analysis of reported/published definitions.


The review was characterised by a process of mapping and categorising existing literature in practice, health services and policy literature. Methods included a thorough search strategy determined by time/scope constraints, quality assessment of study sets relevant to design and graphic/tabular representation of the synthesis. This multi-step, iterative process used an explicit search and retrieval strategy based on Cochrane and Joanna Briggs Institute methodologies. A modified Problem, Intervention, Comparison, Outcome template was used to design the search. To facilitate concept clarification, key definitions relevant to patient safety and AEs in home care were catalogued.


Multiple runs on searches were performed for sensitivity and specificity using the Peer Review of Electronic Search Strategies methodology developed by the Canadian Agency for Drugs and Technologies in Health and additional other approaches. Ninety-two research studies published from 1993 to 2010 and representing 14 countries (the majority North American) met the inclusion criteria (i.e. addressing AEs within the context of home care). Studies varied in scope from one home healthcare agency/site to nationwide investigations that involved more than five million participants. Quantitative research methods included experimental, descriptive and retrospective designs. Qualitative research methods included focus groups, interviews and consensus workshops. The nature of AEs was categorised as types of patient injury/harm related to an AE, caregiver instigated injury/harm and organisational/services/staff injury/harm.


There is an emerging evidence base about safety in home care. A predominant theme was the lack of conceptual clarity with the terms patient safety and AEs in the home care environment. An important finding was that innovative strategies/tools appear in the grey or peer-review literature as quality initiatives with/without evaluation elements. Traditionally, we do not concentrate heavily on the grey literature, but to advance the field, it may be necessary to place more emphasis on this source. A glaring limitation was the paucity of research on the occurrence of AEs and a lack of quality of research that documents prevalence estimates/incidence rates. Interventional research to evaluate risk reduction strategies was very limited and will advance only when tracking and documentation of various AEs improves.

2 September 2013

Click here to view the full article which appeared in International Journal of Evidence-Based Healthcare