What is the Safety Case for Health IT? A Study of Assurance Practices in England

Ibrahim Habli, Sean Paul White, Mark Sujan, Stuart Harrison, Marta Ugarte

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Objective Health IT (HIT) systems are increasingly becoming a core infrastructural technology in healthcare. However, failures of these systems, under certain conditions, can lead to patient harm and as such the safety case for HIT has to be explicitly made. This study focuses on safety assurance practices of HIT in England and investigates how clinicians and engineers currently analyse, control and justify HIT safety risks.

Methods Three workshops were organised, involving 34 clinical and engineering stakeholders, and centred on predefined risk-based questions. This was followed by a detailed review of the Clinical Safety Case Reports for 20 different national and local systems. The data generated was analysed thematically, considering the clinical, engineering and organisational factors, and was used to examine the often implicit safety argument for HIT.

Results Two areas of strength were identified: establishment of a systematic approach to risk management and close engagement by clinicians; and two areas for improvement: greater depth and clarity in hazard analysis practices and greater organisational support for assuring safety. Overall, the dynamic characteristics of healthcare combined with insufficient funding have made it challenging to generate and explain the safety evidence to the required level of detail and rigour.

Conclusion Improvements in the form of practical HIT-specific safety guidelines and tools are needed. The lack of publicly available examples of credible HIT safety cases is a major deficit. The availability of these examples can help clarify the significance of the HIT risk analysis evidence and identify the necessary expertise and organisational commitments.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)324-335
JournalSafety science
Issue numberPart A
Early online date7 Sept 2018
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2018

Bibliographical note

© 2018 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved. This is an author-produced version of the published paper. Uploaded in accordance with the publisher’s self-archiving policy.


  • health informatics
  • RISK
  • Hazard
  • Safety Case

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