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Incident learning plays a key role in improving quality and safety in a wide range of industries and medical disciplines. However, implementing an effective incident learning system is complex, especially in radiationoncology. One current barrier is the lack of technical standards to guide users or developers. This report, the product of an initiative by the Work Group on Prevention of Errors in RadiationOncology of the American Association of Physicists in Medicine, provides technical recommendations for the content and structure of incident learning databases in radiationoncology.


A panel of experts was assembled and tasked with developing consensus recommendations in five key areas: definitions, process maps, severity scales, causality taxonomy, and data elements. Experts included representatives from all major North American radiationoncology organizations as well as users and developers of public and in-house reporting systems with over two decades of collective experience. Recommendations were developed that take into account existing incident learning systems as well as the requirements of outside agencies.


Consensus recommendations are provided for the five major topic areas. In the process mapping task, 91 common steps were identified for external beam radiation therapy and 88 in brachytherapy. A novel feature of the process maps is the identification of “safety barriers,” also known as critical control points, which are any process steps whose primary function is to prevent errors or mistakes from occurring or propagating through the radiotherapy workflow. Other recommendations include a ten-level medical severity scale designed to reflect the observed or estimated harm to a patient, a radiationoncology-specific root causes table to facilitate and regularize root-cause analyses, and recommendations for data elements and structures to aid in development of electronic databases. Also presented is a list of key functional requirements of any reporting system.


Incident learning is recognized as an invaluable tool for improving the quality and safety of treatments. The consensus recommendations in this report are intended to facilitate the implementation of such systems within individual clinics as well as on broader national and international scales.


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