What Are The 5 W’s in Healthcare Incident Report Writing?

Dave Clifton

Back in the day, journalism students were instructed to write using the 5 W’s: who, what, where, when, and why. Today’s reporters craft more anecdotal stories but healthcare incident reports still follow that method. What are the 5 W’s in healthcare incident report writing?

In this blog, we’ll discuss each of the 5 W’s in healthcare incident report writing and why detail is key to proper compliance, especially when notifying internal and external groups.

What Is an Incident Report?

An incident report is thorough documentation of an incident, including all relevant details that caused it and any outcomes that stemmed from it. The key to a good incident report is timeliness, accuracy, and complete, thorough documentation.

What Are The 5 W’s in Healthcare Incident Report Writing?

Like a news story, the 5 W’s in incident report writing answer fundamental questions that guide the documentation and analysis of errors and accidents within healthcare settings. The formula is about creating comprehensive, detailed, and informative reports that enable healthcare organizations to understand what happened, why it happened, and how to prevent similar incidents in the future.

The 5 W’s in healthcare incident report writing are:

  • Who: Identifies the individuals involved in the incident, including patients, staff, and visitors. Documents the roles and responsibilities of those involved without assigning blame.
  • What: Detailed description of the incident itself. It includes what happened, the sequence of events, and any outcomes or injuries that resulted from the incident. It should be factual and objective, focusing on the actions and events that occurred.
  • When: Gives the timeline of the incident, including the date and exact or estimated time. Provides context, such as staffing levels, that can help identify patterns or trends over time.
  • Where: Location of the incident within or near the healthcare facility. This includes specific details such as the department, room number, and building area. Provides insights into environmental or situational factors that may have contributed to the incident.
  • Why: Analysis or investigation into the causes of the incident. It seeks to understand why the incident happened, including any contributing factors or underlying issues. This might involve looking at processes, systems, behaviors, or conditions that led to the incident.

The 5 W’s are a framework to ensure that incident reports are thorough and provide all necessary information for understanding and learning from the incident. Each question helps determine where an organization might need to change policies, procedures, and practices. The benefits of incident reporting include improved patient safety and better delivery of quality care.

Capturing the 5 W’s in an Incident Report

Incidents vary based on geographic location, care setting, and other variables. To make sure you get the best information and most details possible, you should have many pre-built incident report templates for the specific types of incidents your team is likely to encounter. For example, having an “ice storm” template instead of a more generic “natural disaster” template allows the opportunity to collect more specific and appropriate information.

Just like a news reporter, the incident report should ask open-ended questions and offer ample space for the employee to add additional information. The ability to upload supporting documentation is another way to ensure you’re getting answers to the 5 W’s in a complete incident report. This may be easier when using online incident reporting than relying on a paper system.

Improve Incident Reporting With an Online System

Implementing a digital incident reporting system improves reporting processes. It can help to create the proactive reporting culture you desire, eliminate delays, identify trends, and resolve issues more quickly.

MedTrainer Incident Reporting streamlines information gathering and analysis with:

  • Digital Forms Accessible Anywhere. Save staff time by digitizing incident reports so employees at any location can quickly and easily report incidents from anywhere with an internet connection.
  • Drag-and-Drop Form Builder. Easy drag-and-drop fields allow you to customize an unlimited number of form templates and improve the collection of specific data to simplify workflows and identify trends.
  • Report Anonymously. The online format offers employees the ability to complete incident reports from anywhere — and submit them anonymously — to encourage reporting, quick escalation, and resolution.
  • Escalation Matrix. Expedite the approval and review process with automated escalation workflows to remove barriers that are part of a paper process. No more looking for paper or people.
  • Severity Levels. Say goodbye to ambiguity and hello to clarity and precision. Experience a new level of incident reporting effectiveness and identify important trends by assigning accurate and meaningful classifications to every incident. 

MedTrainer offers all the functions listed above in an all-in-one compliance solution. Enhance your compliance programs with digital incident reporting solutions for any size organization. Contact us to learn more.


Get everything you need to know about the 9 compliance reports you can't live without.