Patient-safety related studies: an overview into the reach of scholarly discourse

Misha Kidambi

World Patient Safety Day, observed on September 17th, is a global initiative that the World Health Organization (WHO) has instituted. The aim is to elevate patient safety to the forefront of global health priorities. WHO calls for united efforts from all nations and international partners to enhance patient safety, urging the involvement of patients, families, caregivers, communities, healthcare professionals, leaders, and policymakers in demonstrating their commitment to this cause.

The emphasis on including patients, families, caregivers, and communities in the discourse means looking beyond research and scholarly circles to understand what themes related to patient safety resonate within the ‘public’ domain. We looked at the Altmetric Attention Scores of research publications on patient safety to get an initial overview. The aim was to gauge the level of attention these publications received beyond the academic ecosystem.

We first looked at publications featuring the term “patient safety” in their titles. Patient safety, as defined by the WHO, revolves around preventing patient harm and reducing the risk of avoidable harm associated with healthcare to the lowest possible level (for more information, see the WHO page on Patient Safety). Within the broader context of the healthcare system, it encompasses a systematic approach involving various elements, such as cultures, processes, procedures, behaviors, technologies, and environments, with the overarching goal of consistently and sustainably minimizing risks, reducing avoidable harm, mitigating errors, and lessening the impact of harm when it does occur.

With the term “patient safety” in the title, an opinion piece For Patient Safety, It Is Not Time to Take Off Masks in Health Care Settings in the Annals of Internal Medicine was the one that garnered the highest Altmetric Attention Score. The authors Tara N. Palmore (George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences, Washington, DC)  and David K. Henderson (Clinical Center, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Maryland) argue that there is a case to continue using masks in health settings despite the lack of consensus among the medical fraternity and the urgency to return to ‘normalcy’ after the COVID-19 pandemic.

Figure 1: Search results showing Altmetric Attention Score for titles with the term “patient safety”

WHO has also pinpointed several common sources of patient harm, each of which carries significant repercussions. These include medication errors, which according to WHO data, affect one in every 30 patients in healthcare, with over a quarter of these incidents classified as severe or life-threatening. Searching for the titles with the term “medication errors” yielded a study titled “Non-health care facility medication errors resulting in serious medical outcomes,” published in Clinical Toxicology with an Altmetric Attention Score of 944. Authors Nichole L. Hodges (Center for Injury Research and Policy at The Research Institute of Nationwide Children’s Hospital, Columbus,USA) et al. conclude that “The rate of non-health care facility medication errors resulting in serious medical outcomes is increasing, and additional efforts are needed to prevent these errors.”

Figure 2: Search results showing Altmetric Attention Score for titles with the term “medication errors”

Another pressing concern is healthcare-associated infections globally affecting 0.14% of patients, increasing by 0.06% annually. These infections lead to prolonged hospital stays, persistent disabilities, and crucially, increased chances of contributing to and being affected by antimicrobial resistance. WHO states that healthcare-associated infections also add financial burdens on patients and healthcare systems and result in avoidable fatalities. The study with the highest Altmetric Attention Score in this theme is a 2013 one titled Health Care–Associated Infections: A Meta-analysis of Costs and Financial Impact on the US Health Care System from the JAMA Internal Medicine.

The term “venous thromboembolism,” commonly known as blood clots, represents a highly burdensome but preventable cause of patient harm, contributing to one-third of hospitalization-associated complications. The WHO also lists it as one of the leading causes of patient harm. Despite the seemingly technical term, papers with venous thromboembolism in their titles have garnered some of the highest Altmetric Attention Scores in patient safety-related studies. Although the ‘top two’ are papers related to COVID-19 studies (Autopsy Findings and Venous Thromboembolism in Patients With COVID-19 and Arterial events, venous thromboembolism, thrombocytopenia, and bleeding after vaccination with Oxford-AstraZeneca ChAdOx1-S in Denmark and Norway: population based cohort study), the third on the list is Edoxaban for the Treatment of Cancer-Associated Venous Thromboembolism. This study, funded by the Daiichi Sankyo; Hokusai VTE Cancer ClinicalTrials, garnered a score of 1047, with mentions in 77 news outlets, over 700 tweets, and three policy mentions.

Figure 3: Search results showing Altmetric Attention Score for titles with the term “venous thromboembolism”

To learn more about using the Altmetric Explorer and the Altmetric Attention Score, contact the friendly Altmetric team.