Westgard Quality Control Workshop – Part 2

measureI just returned from the Westgard quality Control Workshop, where I was a speaker and have a few blogs worth of comments – this is the second.

How does one determine acceptable risk

This was one of the questions asked by a participant – are there any guidelines? I also commented recently, that in spite of all of talk about risk management and putting in place control measures until one has acceptable risk, no one knows what acceptable risk means. Here’s some more thoughts on this.

There are different risks (1). These can be enumerated. These include:

perception – complaints from either hospital or non hospital staff

performance – traditional quality, including errors that can affect patient safety

financial – errors that threaten the financial health of the service including lawsuits

regulatory – errors that threaten the accreditation status of the service

So first, one must say which risk one has in mind. One can envision an acceptable regulatory risk (we always pass inspections) but an unacceptable patient safety risk.  Note also, that the risks are not necessarily unique. One can have a patient safety failure with or without a lawsuit.

Assume the risk in question is the performance risk and specifically about patient safety. The Cadillac version of assessing risk would be to perform a quantitative fault tree and arrive at a numerical probability of patient risk. This is unlikely and one would probably have a qualitative assessment. Whether the assessment is quantitative or qualitative, this still hasn’t answered the acceptability question.

The problem is there is no easy answer to this question. If one had unlimited funds, one could lower the risk to whatever level was desired but funds are limited by the economic healthcare policy of the laboratory’s country (2). So one answer of acceptable risk is how this economic policy is translated into regulations. (e.g., one follows existing regulations and passes inspections). Yet, this is only a quasi legal way of stating acceptable risk.


I suggest that risk be assessed by traditional means (FMEA, fault tree) which includes a Pareto chart or table to rank the risks. Then, if one optimizes the money that one has in implementing control measures (mitigations) by a portfolio type means, then one has an acceptable risk under the imposed financial constraints.

portfolio analysis


1.       Managing risk in hospitals using integrated Fault Trees / FMECAs. Jan S. Krouwer, AACC Press, Washington DC, 2004.

2.       See http://covertrationingblog.com/


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