If I ask a colleague, “Will it be cold in Atlanta tomorrow?” multiple ambiguities are at play.

Am I trying to plan what to wear or am I worried about crop damage? What is their definition of cold? What’s mine? Do I care about the whole day or just a particular time? I risk getting an unhelpful or misleading answer unless I rephrase my question to reduce those ambiguities.

Will it be below 40 degrees in Atlanta tomorrow morning?

Asking the question correctly, can make a big difference in understanding important nuances about patient safety vulnerability. Risk assessment depends heavily on analyses of data captured from adverse events and medical professional liability (MPL cases). Receiving high-value analyses, in turn, depends on posing unambiguous questions to data analysts, and listening to their feedback on how best to get what you’re looking for.

Frame the scope of your inquiry.

Is this a one-time analysis, part of a bigger project, a new periodic report?

Include contingencies.

Does this refresh a prior analysis or align with other reports that have specific criteria?

Avoid being too broad or too narrow.

Just one department? The whole organization? Peer comparisons?

Clarify vague terms/criteria.

Define anything open to (reasonable) interpretation (e.g., by “surgery,” do you mean inpatient and outpatient procedures?).

Identify the primary audience.

What is their level of interest/responsibility, comprehension of the relevant clinical/business issues, data literacy?

Establish a format for the answers you want.

List? Spreadsheet? Odds ratio? Action step?

Working with your analysts and others involved in an MPL information pursuit before they get to work, helps you better forecast future risks.

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