Benefits of a Healthcare Incident Response Plan

Amanda Marten, MSN, FNP-C
HC incident response plan

According to The Joint Commission, more than 1,400 healthcare sentinel events were reported in 2022, a 19% increase compared to the prior year. However, this figure may be underestimated mainly since many sentinel incidents go unreported, as data submission is voluntary. When reporting these events, I believe an incident response plan is crucial, as it outlines the next steps for individuals to take and how to respond. Creating a healthcare incident response plan is one way to combat underreporting incidents in healthcare and maintain compliance.

Healthcare Incident Response Plan and Why It’s Essential

An incident report thoroughly documents any accidental event within a healthcare environment. Incidents can be near-misses, cause possible harm, or sentinel, which results in severe damage or death. While most think of incidents as physical patient harm or safety events, they can also be related to data and security breaches. Some other examples include HIPAA violations, cybersecurity attacks, and emergency or disaster recovery.

An incident response plan outlines essential information about how a health organization will prepare and effectively respond to an incident. It thoroughly details the following steps to minimize the incident’s impact on delivering care. The plan describes training and preparation, how to identify events, where to report an event, and who to contact. It also entails containing the incident, investigating it, developing operational procedures, and evaluating it.

Having a healthcare incident response plan to report incidents properly is crucial regardless of the type of incident. Here are some reasons why I recommend creating  a strategic plan:

  • Provides Documentation: Information regarding the time, persons involved, type of incident, and other required data provides documentation necessary for compliance reporting. Health organizations must maintain records of how they will respond to an incident when it occurs.
  • Meets Accreditation and Regulatory Standards: Healthcare accreditation and regulatory organizations require an incident response plan to meet compliance standards. For example, all health organizations must have a HIPAA-compliant incident response plan for handling patient data security breaches. Health companies will only receive accreditation or approval to provide medical services with an incident response plan.
  • Analyzes the Root Cause: Thorough and timely documentation of the incident provides insight into why the incident may have occurred. Part of the incident response plan cycle is to complete a root-cause analysis, which helps leadership and safety managers identify potential procedural or policy issues. By identifying the root cause, future events can potentially be avoided through corrective action, policy updates, or additional staff training.

Benefits of Crafting a Healthcare Incident Response Plan

Accreditation and compliance standards require an incident response plan, but there are many benefits to organizations beyond just meeting the requirement. Some benefits include:

Organizes Policies and Procedures

An incident response plan hinges on organizations maintaining current policies and procedures and ensuring employees can easily find them when needed. Ideally, employees have reviewed and acknowledged receipt of the policy, but keeping them organized and accessible keeps the organization prepared for audits or surveys as well.

Boosts Security and Protects Patient Information

A HIPAA incident response plan details specific procedures to follow if a data breach or cybersecurity attack occurs. Information like who to notify, how to submit an incident report, and the subsequent steps to follow are invaluable. Having an incident response plan empowers individuals to take the correct action when an event occurs, which in turn helps protect patient data and security.

Builds Trust

An incident response plan instills organizational trust and establishes a culture of compliance. Employees feel empowered and are responsible for following standard procedures and submitting incident reports with an established protocol. Incident response plans also generate trust and confidence in organizational stakeholders.

Alleviates Risk

An incident response plan establishes a pre-planned action plan for reacting to an emergency or event, which helps to mitigate risk quickly. Individuals involved can promptly respond and put the incident plan into action. Incident plans alleviate potential delays in response time, which is especially important during catastrophic natural disasters or cybersecurity breaches.

Guides Training

Training records are an essential component of an incident response plan. Healthcare organizations can measure training effectiveness by analyzing information and outcomes and pivoting when necessary. For example, suppose an organization only provides online hand hygiene training but finds many employees aren’t compliant with practices. In that case, they may offer a series of microlearning courses to keep the topic top-of-mind instead of requiring the training annually.

Identifies Areas of Improvement

Think of incident response plans as a cycle, where they constantly help identify and evaluate improvement areas. Creating or updating the plan requires identifying areas of vulnerability and finding the root cause of such incidents. By conducting a comprehensive risk analysis, you know areas of improvement and learning so you can make changes before a severe incident.

Consider a Digital Solution

Creating and establishing an incident response plan can be complex and time-consuming. To help with this process, consider adopting technology to help. All-in-one compliance software offers valuable functions that make incident plan preparation easier.

  • Comprehensive Platform: Choose a digital platform that provides access to compliance training, incident reporting, and document management all in one place.
  • Compliance Training: Training in preparation and resolution is a critical part of an incident response plan. A healthcare learning management system allows you to access needed training, track completion, and access training records whenever required.
  • Customizable Reporting: Set up reports to demonstrate compliance to accreditation or regulatory surveyors. You can show employees who have acknowledged policies, incident reports by type and resolution, and more.
  • Organize Policies: Employees can easily access their organization’s incident response plan through a digital platform. They can report incidents, access policies, and view personal training records. Leadership can access their employees’ training records and update policies whenever necessary.

Partnering with MedTrainer can help improve organizational compliance and incident reporting. Contact us today to learn more about our all-in-one digital solutions.