Despite the growth of patient safety programs across the United States, errors and adverse events remain a source of patient harm. Many hospitals rely on retrospective voluntary reporting systems; however, there are opportunities to improve patient safety using novel tools like trigger programs.


Children’s National Hospital developed a unique pediatric triggers program that offers customized, near real-time reports of potential safety events. Our team defined a measure to quantify clinical utility of triggers, termed “trigger signal,” as the percentage of cases that represent true adverse or near-miss events (numerator) per total triggers activated (denominator). Our key driver diagram focused on unifying the program structure, increasing data analytics, promoting organizational awareness, and supporting multidisciplinary end user engagement. Using the model for improvement, we aimed to double overall trigger signal from 8% to 16% and sustain for 12 months.


The trigger signal increased from 8% to 41% and sustained during the coronavirus disease 2019 pandemic. A balancing measure of time to implement a new trigger decreased. Key interventions to increase trigger signal were change in the program structure, increasing stakeholder engagement, and development of self-service reports for end users.


Children’s National Hospital’s triggers program highlights successful evolution of an iterative, customized approach to increase clinical utility that hospitals can implement to impact real-time patient care. This triggers program requires an iterative, customized approach rather than a “1-size-fits-all,” static paradigm to add a new dimension to current patient safety programs.

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