Not so long ago, anonymous incident reporting was considered to be the best option for healthcare organizations. The idea was that more incidents would be recorded if the reporter wasn’t afraid of retribution. And that’s important since the more incidents you know about, the more actions you can take. As a culture of safety takes root, however, you may find that the drawbacks of anonymity outweigh the benefits. Here are the pros and cons to help you sort it out.

Pros

Creates a fear-free environment. Anonymous reporting can break through long-held beliefs – real or perceived – that the person reporting the incident will be held accountable and their performance record will suffer. The need for this protection, however, often diminishes over time as people become comfortable with the process – especially if they can see results.

Eliminates embarrassment over mistakes. Sometimes healthcare providers can be so ashamed of making a mistake that the last thing they want to do is relive it all in an incident report.  Being able to report an incident or near miss without naming names can help put the focus back where it should be – on patient safety.

Protects the identity of a whistleblower. Anonymous reporting provides a safe way to report serious wrongdoing – and that’s something you especially don’t want to miss.

Cons

Makes follow up on missing information impossible. If you don’t know who submitted the incident report, you can’t go back and get more details. Not only does this make it that much more difficult to figure out what really happened, it could render the whole report essentially worthless if the missing piece turns out to be critical.

Disconnects the incident from the outcome. People like to know that their actions made a difference in patient safety. Since anonymity leaves no way to communicate back what actions were taken, reporters can feel like it was a lot of effort for nothing. Next time, they might not bother.

Thwarts learning. Protecting the identity of the reporter can make it harder to get the team together, openly discuss what happened, and brainstorm solutions.

More incidents get reported when there’s no fear for doing so. Sometimes that takes the protection of anonymity – but it comes with a cost. Will your people feel comfortable reporting issues without that safeguard?

For more perspectives on incident reporting in the healthcare industry, watch for upcoming blogs in the series.

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