In their own words: Safety and quality perspectives from families of hospitalized children with medical complexity

Document Type


Publication Date



Pediatrics, Internal Medicine

Journal Title

Journal of hospital medicine


BACKGROUND: Children with medical complexity (CMC) experience adverse events due to multiorgan impairment, frequent hospitalizations, subspecialty care, and dependence on multiple medications/equipment. Their families are well-versed in care and can help identify safety/quality gaps to inform improvements. Although previous studies have shown families identify important safety/quality gaps in hospitals, studies of inpatient safety/quality experience of CMC and their families are limited. To address this gap and identify otherwise unrecognized, family-prioritized areas for improving safety/quality of CMC, we conducted a secondary qualitative analysis of safety reporting surveys among families of CMC. OBJECTIVE: Explore safety reports from families of hospitalized CMC to identify areas to improve safety/quality. DESIGNS, SETTINGS AND PARTICIPANTS: We analyzed free-text responses from predischarge safety reporting surveys administered to families of CMC at a quaternary children's hospital from April 2018 to November 2020. Using a qualitative descriptive approach, we categorized responses into standard clinical categories. Three team members inductively generated an initial codebook to apply iteratively to responses. Reviewers coded responses collaboratively, resolved discrepancies through consensus, and generated themes. MAIN OUTCOME AND MEASURES: Outcomes: family-reported areas of safety/quality improvement. MEASURES: pre-discharge family surveys. RESULTS: Two hundred and eight/two hundred and thirty-seven (88%) families completed surveys; 83 families offered 138 free-text safety responses about medications, feeds, cares, and other categories. Themes included unmet expectations of hospital care/environment, lack of consistency, provider-patient communication lapses, families' expertise about care, and the value of transparency. CONCLUSION: To improve care of CMC and their families, hospitals can manage expectations about hospital limitations, improve consistency of care/communication, acknowledge family expertise, and recognize that family-observed quality concerns can have safety implications. Soliciting family input can help hospitals improve care in meaningful, otherwise unrecognized ways.