Risk Management in Healthcare – Best Practices

While nearly every organization focuses resources on minimizing risks, risk management in healthcare can truly mean the difference between life and death. In addition to developing strategies that minimize or prevent financial loss, in healthcare, risk management can also reduce risks that can pose threats to patient safety. And in some cases, this can be lifesaving. Risk management in healthcare may include decreasing malpractice claims, reducing insurance costs and reducing patient falls.

Establishing a risk management practice that follows these best practices helps equip healthcare organizations to manage risks, improve patient safety and impact the bottom line.

Provide Employee Education

Building a solid risk management strategy does little good if employees aren’t up to speed on the overall strategy, as well as the tactical implementation of prevention and response. Employee involvement helps foster a culture around your risk management strategy.

Foster a Reporting Culture

Employees should consistently report incidents to help with risk management. One key component of this is ensuring people aren’t fearful of punishment for reporting. A successful reporting culture is established with a focus on patient safety, and a perspective that all parties involved in the organization – families, patients, actioners and leaders – are responsible and should be active participants. One example is Virginia Mason’s Patient Safety Alert System (PSA system), where employees report anything that harmed or could have harmed a patient through an online reporting system. A specialist reviews each report and determines the appropriate cause of action.

Promote Transparency

Transparency goes hand in hand with a reporting culture but should extend outside the walls of a single institution. Perspective is important, according to the National Patient Safety Foundation’s Lucian Leape Institute, which reports that an unbridled flow of information has been more positive than expected, and has caused reportedly minimal harm. Fear is a major barrier to transparency – fear of bias against individuals or organizations who report risks. However, the institute suggests that institutionalized transparency, among clinicians and patients, between clinicians, across healthcare organizations, and broadly across the public sector at large, will be profound.

Ensure Clear Departmental Communication

In addition to driving transparent data that can inform risk management strategies, clear communication can also help integrate risk management practices into the daily workflow. For example, equip electronic records with an alert or message for healthcare providers, or ask risk managers to review charts. Maintain a constant dialogue centered around safety, encourage reporting regularly, celebrate wins and seek ideas from employees to improve.

Win Leadership Support

Risk management directors should seek support from senior leadership to ensure the risk management strategy is integrated into the overall organizational strategy. In addition, buy-in from the top levels of leadership endorses healthcare risk management as a priority, encouraging employees to be proactive in implementing the strategy. For leaders, a risk management plan can improve the bottom line, reputation and efficiency of the organization while supporting patient safety and accreditation standards.

Create a Standardized Process

When a standardized process is established, the organization can examine data across departments to better understand the overall strategy. Without harmonization across departments, organizations run the risk of differing implementation and lose the visibility a larger dataset could offer.

Perform Assessments and Monitor Progress

Assessing potential risks instead of reacting to existing risks moves you into an offensive position. Understand areas where failure is more likely to occur, and build in practices to help minimize those risks. Establish a timeframe for this review, and how often your organization will benchmark progress and study the impact of the action plan. This consistent assessment, conducted through reviews, audits or reports, provides a perspective on how specific policies and procedures have helped to eliminate risks – or not.


Establishing risk management prioritization is standard practice in the risk management for any industry. But in healthcare risk management, safety trumps finances. Through this lens, healthcare organizations prioritize by understanding what events could happen, their likelihood, and the degree of impact. Then, the risk managers establish how the organization can mitigate, limit impact and measure the potential effects if those risks cannot be managed. Through this prioritization, risk managers should also define the responsibility to manage the risks, and regularly evaluate if an identified risk is still a possibility.

Streamline Risk Management Processes

Risk management and quality improvement practices often go hand in hand. The ECRI Institute recommends leaders of both initiatives harmonize processes, eliminate overlaps and ensure their concerns are both addressed through a unified approach to process change, collecting and analysis of data, and monitoring and evaluation. One example is the process of patient discharge. While a quality improvement professional will want to understand readmission, the planning process and coordination, a risk manager will also want to ensure patient satisfaction to reduce the risk of litigation.

While a successful healthcare risk management strategy is likely to improve costs and efficiency for individual healthcare organizations, more important, it can help to save lives and improve the experience for patients, caretakers and the overall healthcare system.

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