Incident Reporting in Nursing Homes: A Closer Look

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a nurse taking Incident reporting in nursing homes from an elderly resident
The nursing home sector plays a vital role in caring for the aged and some of the most vulnerable groups in society. Healthcare needs of the elderly are rising and getting more complex, so is the focus on resident safety and quality of care. Incident reporting in nursing homes is integral to ensuring safety and quality of care. Under-reporting of incidents in the nursing home sector, as revealed by some studies, is an area of concern.   This blog article takes a closer look at incident reporting in the nursing home sector. To put in perspective, it compares the incident reporting culture and practices between nursing homes and hospitals. The article then moves on to highlight the challenges nursing homes are facing and suggest what an effective incident reporting solution for the sector should entail.

Table of Contents

Differences in Reporting Culture and Practices

Incident reporting is an essential part of quality management systems for nursing homes and hospitals to ensure the safety and well-being of patients and residents. However, there are notable differences between the two in terms of the types of incidents reported, the reporting processes, and post-reporting data analysis and improvement programs.

The differences in incident reporting culture and practices are due to several factors. This includes differences in the environment, nature and priority of care, organizational structure, size of operations, and regulatory requirements. While it is difficult to generalize, we can broadly compare the two healthcare settings to gain useful insights:

Resident-centric focus: Incident reporting in nursing homes is centered around resident safety and well-being. The focus is on reporting incidents that directly impact the elderly residents’ health, safety, and quality of life. Residents in nursing homes are more vulnerable due to age-related frailties, chronic conditions, or cognitive impairments. Common incidents are falls, behavioral issues, medication errors, infections, neglect, abuse, and accidents related to mobility or self-care.  Patient and clinical focus: Incident reporting in hospitals primarily focuses on patient care and clinical outcomes. Hospitals must deal with a wide range of clinical incidents, such as medication errors, surgical errors, patient falls, hospital-associated infections, pressure injuries, patient identification errors, and laboratory-related incidents. Incident reporting in hospitals also covers a range of non-clinical and occupational health and safety incidents. The scope and process of incident management is broader and more complex in hospitals.
Close-knit environment: Nursing homes typically have a smaller and more intimate setting. This allows caregivers, nursing staff and other personal support workers to develop closer relationships with residents. Some residents’ families also engage and communicate regularly with care providers and support personnels. When incidents occur, families need to be informed promptly and provided with updates. Hierarchical structures: Hospitals tend to have more formalized process for incident reporting, documentation, review, investigation, root cause analysis, and improvement plans. Typically, the quality management teams oversee incident management functions and coordinate with other departments and stakeholders. Larger hospital organizations set up clinical governance structures comprising of quality, safety, risk, compliance, and feedback management.
Informal reporting channels: Generally speaking, incident reporting in nursing homes tends to be informal. In some settings, staff members verbally report incidents to supervisors or care managers. Incidents with no or low harm and near misses are rarely reported. Formal incident reporting systems may vary in their implementation in nursing homes. However, this is changing. Some countries have put in place regulations on mandatory reporting of incidents, such as abuse or neglect cases. More nursing homes are now adopting a structured approach with the implementation of digital incident reporting systems.  Formal and mandatory reporting: Hospitals are subject to more stringent regulations and governmental agency oversight. These require hospitals to have formal incident reporting systems in place to meet regulatory and mandatory reporting requirements. Incident reporting is also a requirement for hospital accreditation and other certifications. 

Unique Challenges of Incident Reporting in Nursing Homes

Given this backdrop, nursing homes face several unique challenges in incident reporting. These include:

  • Communication barriers:
    Elderly residents may have cognitive or physical limitations that make it difficult for them to communicate, or are reluctant to provide information. Language and cultural barriers, as well as mental conditioning, are the other challenges. These barriers can lead to under-reporting or hinder effective incident reporting and understanding of the incident details. Communication with residents’ families becomes essential to bridge any information gaps.


  • Lacking reporting culture:
    The culture of reporting in nursing homes is usually less established compared to hospitals. Nursing homes need to cultivate a safety culture and a non-punitive approach to managing incidents and errors. Incident reporting is an important part of this culture. There may be a lack of awareness of what constitutes a reportable incident. Staff members should be adequately trained in incident reporting guidelines and procedures.


  • Reporting biases:
    Informal and less structured reporting processes could inadvertently lead to reporting biases. In a closely-knit nursing home environment, staff members may be prone to biases due to personal relationships with residents or colleagues. These reporting biases can affect the accuracy and objectivity of incident reports.


  • Staff shortages:
    This is a constant challenge for the healthcare industry, more so for the elderly care sector. Staff members often have demanding workloads and limited time for other tasks. Due to staff shortages, nursing home providers often have to bring in temporary staff and volunteers, who may lack safety awareness and training in incident reporting procedures.


  • Inadequate reporting systems:
    Nursing homes may lack standardized incident reporting systems or have outdated documentation processes. In some cases, the existing system may not be able to cater to the nuances of nursing home setup and is difficult to use. This will discourage staff from reporting. It is also time-consuming and difficult to capture and track incident information accurately with manual processes. Without a centralized incident repository, accessing and analyzing incident data will be a challenge, hindering efforts to implement necessary improvements.

Effective Incident Reporting Systems for Nursing Homes

The introduction of a comprehensive incident reporting system for nursing homes is pivotal to building a reporting culture, setting best practices, and facilitating communication. Given the distinct characteristics and challenges faced by the nursing home sector, key elements of an effective incident reporting system should include the following:


  1. User-friendly and easily accessible
    The system should be simple and easy to use with minimal steps required to report an incident. It should be mobile-friendly and accessible to all staff members to report incidents in real time. Like all healthcare settings, data security and confidentiality are a necessity.

  1. Specific incident categories and types
    The system should have incident categories and incident types relevant to the nursing home environment. Proper incident categorization and types (refer to examples below) make incident reporting easier and facilitate trend analysis to identify root causes. Incident form for each incident type should enable comprehensive data collection.

    The system should be configurable to allow individual nursing homes to incorporate the nuances related to incident types and incident details.

Incident CategoryIncident Types
Behavioral and other Resident-related
  • Verbal or physical abuse
  • Resident-to-resident aggression
  • Disruptive behaviors
  • Other accidents and injuries
  • Mental health issues
  • Wandering and elopement
  • Administrative / Documentation
  • Equipment-related
  • Environment-related
  • Security-related
Workplace Safety and Health
  1. Streamlined and automated workflow
    A streamlined workflow should have these key steps: reporting an incident, documenting incident details, supervisor review, quality review, investigation/RCA, and signoff. It should automatically notify appropriate personnel (e.g., supervisors, quality manager) when an incident is reported, and for subsequent steps.

  1. Communication and feedback mechanism
    An effective reporting system should incorporate features that facilitate open communication and collaboration among care givers, nursing staff, and the management. It should include a mechanism for staff to access and learn from the reported incidents and to incorporate feedback and responses from the affected residents and their families. This can help to address communication barriers.

  1. RCA and Improvement Actions
    The system should include patient safety tools for conducting root cause analysis (e.g., 5 Whys and Fishbone Diagram) to determine underlying factors contributing to incidents. Make contributing factors and sub-factors in drop-box for selection to facilitate data analytics. The system should facilitate the creation and tracking of action plans to address identified issues.

  1. Trend analysis and dashboards
    The system should have robust data analysis capabilities to identify trends and patterns in incident reports. It should be able to generate insightful reports and dashboards for the quality improvement teams and the management, and to meet mandatory reporting requirements.

In Closing

Having an effective incident reporting software for nursing homes is vital for ensuring the safety and well-being of residents. By fostering a culture of safety, continuous improvement, open communication, and learning, nursing homes can better manage incidents, mitigate risks, and enhance the overall quality of care. 


The introduction of an online incident reporting system with the above-mentioned features would be a concrete step to address the under-reporting of incidents in the nursing home sector. Digitalization is the key enabler not just for incident and safety management but for a transformative change in the quality and delivery of elderly care services.

QUASR is an easy-to-use, secure, and affordable cloud-based incident reporting system designed for all healthcare settings

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