Incident Reports, Logs, and Narrative Reports Differences
The use of incidents reports, logs and narrative-only reports is commonplace in a number of public and private sectors, including law enforcement and health care where they are used to codify different types of events for different purposes. Irrespective of the setting and purpose, though, these types of written records can play a vital role in keeping track of important events and establishing accountability for future analysis or investigation. To gain some fresh insights in this area, this paper provides an explanation concerning the purposes of and differences between incident reports, logs, and narrative only reports. A discussion concerning the five rules of narrative report writing is followed by a summary of the research and important findings concerning the importance of honest, factual report writing. Review and Discussion
As the term implies, an “incident report” is intended to capture the important details of an untoward incident of some type. In a tertiary health care setting, for example, incident reports may be required for all cases of patients falling (whether they injure themselves or not), for medication and blood transfusion errors, fires and instances of patient abuse (Berntsen, 2004). Unlike the continuous recording of events as with logs which are described further below, incident reports are single documents that are completed at the time of an incident and then submitted to higher authorities for analysis and action. According to Berntsen (2004), in health care settings, “Incident reports are not part of the patient record and are not shared with patients. The reports are protected from legal discovery and are generally not released outside of the hospital” (p. 44). In many cases, incident reports are carefully controlled by the quality assurance and risk management services within the medical facility (Berntsen, 2004).
It is important to trend incident reports with respect to type of incident, place of occurrence, and the responsible parties. In health care settings, for example, tracking and trending the number of medication errors may help identify a single provider who is responsible for the majority of such errors. Similarly, tracking and trends crime data by type, time and location can likewise help identify patterns that can help formulate effective law enforcement responses. For this purpose, many law enforcement agencies and health care organizations are turning to specialized incident reporting software, but the same type of results can be obtained through manual recordation (albeit with more work) as long as care is given to the accuracy of the above-mentioned details. In addition, some practitioners have used existing software tools such as Lotus Notes or Excel to develop their own customized incident reporting programs (Brenner & Freundlich, 2006). For example, one customized incident report program is based in Lotus Notes and “uses e-mail to route incident reports from direct service staff to supervisors and administrators, facilitates timely clinical oversight and risk management and ensures the security of clients' protected health information” (Brenner & Freundlich, 2006, p. 612).
In fact, most authorities agree that computer-based tracking is the only truly effective method of tracking incident reports, particularly in larger organizations. In this regard, Berntsen (2004) reports that, “Some hospitals still use handwritten incident reports, which are labor-intensive to read and interpret. As information databases improve, hospitals will most likely improve their ability to track alarming trends. Currently, such trends may be lost amid the volume of handwritten paperwork” (p. 44). Further, compliance with national and international health care accrediting agencies frequently requires the use of automated incident reporting programs (Brenner & Freundlich, 2006) Logs...
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Brenner, E. & Freundlich, M. (2006, May/June). Enhancing the safety of children in foster care and family support programs: Automated critical incident reporting. Child Welfare, 85(3), 611-619.
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