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Open Access Highly Accessed Open Badges Research article

Clinical risk management in mental health: a qualitative study of main risks and related organizational management practices

Matthias Briner12* and Tanja Manser3

Author Affiliations

1 ETH Zurich, Centre for Organizational and Occupational Sciences, Weinbergstrasse 56/58, 8092, Zurich, Switzerland

2 Lucerne School of Business, Lucerne University of Applied Sciences and Arts, Zentralstrasse 9, 6002, Lucerne, Switzerland

3 Department of Psychology, University of Fribourg, Rue P.-A. de Faucigny 2, 1700, Fribourg, Switzerland

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BMC Health Services Research 2013, 13:44  doi:10.1186/1472-6963-13-44

Published: 4 February 2013



A scientific understanding of clinical risk management (CRM) in mental health care is essential for building safer health systems and for improving patient safety. While evidence on patient safety and CRM in physical health care has increased, there is limited research on these issues in mental health care. This qualitative study provides an overview of the most important clinical risks in mental health and related organizational management practices.


We conducted in-depth expert interviews with professionals responsible for CRM in psychiatric hospitals. Interviews were transcribed and analyzed applying qualitative content analysis to thematically sort the identified risks.


The main concerns for CRM in mental health are a) violence and self-destructive behavior (i.e. protecting patients and staff from other patients, and patients from themselves), b) treatment errors, especially in the process of therapy, and c) risks associated with mental illnesses (e.g. psychosis or depression). This study identified critical differences to CRM in hospitals for physical disorder and challenges specific to CRM in mental health. Firstly, many psychiatric patients do not believe that they are ill and are therefore in hospital against their will. Secondly, staff safety is a much more prominent theme for CRM in mental health care as it is directly related to the specifics of mental illnesses.


The current study contributes to the understanding of patient safety and raises awareness for CRM in mental health. The mental health specific overview of central risks and related organizational management practices offers a valuable basis for CRM development in mental health and an addition to CRM in general.

Patient safety; Clinical risk management; Organizational risk management; Mental health care; Psychiatry; Qualitative analysis