Safety on the ground: using critical incident technique to explore the factors influencing medical registrars' provision of safe care

Katherine Ralston, Samantha Eve Smith, Joanne Kerins, Saskia Clark-Stewart, Victoria Tallentire

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


BACKGROUND: Avoidable patient harm in hospitals is common, and doctors in training can provide underused but crucial insights into the influencers of patient safety as those working 'on the ground' within the system. This study aimed to explore the factors that influence safe care from the perspective of medical registrars, to identify targets for safety-related improvements.

METHODS: This study used enhanced critical incident technique (CIT), a qualitative methodology that results in a focused understanding of significant factors influencing an activity, to identify practical solutions. We interviewed 12 out of 17 consenting medical registrars in Scotland, asking them to recount their observations during clinical experiences where something happened that positively or negatively impacted on patient safety. Data were analysed manually using a modified content analysis with credibility checks as per enhanced CIT, with data exhaustiveness reached after six registrars.

RESULTS: A total of 221 critical incidents impacting patient safety were identified. These were inductively placed into 24 categories within 4 overarching categories: Individual skills, encompassing individual behavioural and technical skills; Collaboration, regarding how communication, trust, support and flexibility shape interprofessional collaboration; Organisation, concerning organisational systems and staffing and Training environment, relating to culture, civility, having a voice and learning at work. Practical targets for safety-related interventions were identified, such as clear policies for patient care ownership or educational interventions to foster civility.

CONCLUSIONS: This study provides a rigorous and focused understanding of the factors influencing patient safety in hospitals, using the 'insider' perspective of the medical registrar. Safety goes beyond the individual and is reliant on safe system design, interprofessional collaboration and a culture of support, learning and respect. Organisations should also promote flexibility within clinical practice when patient needs do not conform to standardised care pathways. We suggest targeted interventions within educational and organisational priorities to improve safety in hospitals.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere002641
Number of pages11
JournalBMJ Open Quality
Issue number1
Early online date26 Feb 2024
Publication statusPublished - 30 Mar 2024


  • Humans
  • Task Performance and Analysis
  • Health Personnel
  • Patient Safety
  • Physicians
  • Learning


Dive into the research topics of 'Safety on the ground: using critical incident technique to explore the factors influencing medical registrars' provision of safe care'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this