Implementing systems thinking for infection prevention: The cessation of repeated scabies outbreaks in a respiratory care ward

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Root cause analysis (RCA) is often adopted to complement epidemiologic investigation for outbreaks and infection-related adverse events in hospitals; however, RCA has been argued to have limited effectiveness in preventing such events. We describe how an innovative systems analysis approach halted repeated scabies outbreaks, and highlight the importance of systems thinking for outbreaks analysis and sustaining effective infection prevention and control.


Following RCA for a third successive outbreak of scabies over a 17-month period in a 60-bed respiratory care ward of a Taiwan hospital, a systems-oriented event analysis (SOEA) model was used to reanalyze the outbreak. Both approaches and the recommendations were compared.


No nosocomial scabies have been reported for more than 1975 days since implementation of the SOEA. Previous intervals between seeming eradication and repeat outbreaks following RCA were 270 days and 180 days. Achieving a sustainable positive resolution relied on applying systems thinking and the holistic analysis of the system, not merely looking for root causes of events.


To improve the effectiveness of outbreaks analysis and infection control, an emphasis on systems thinking is critical, along with a practical approach to ensure its effective implementation. The SOEA model provides the necessary framework and is a viable complementary approach, or alternative, to RCA.

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