Challenges of Population-based Measurement of Suicide Prevention Activities Across Multiple Health Systems

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Suicide is a preventable public health problem. Zero Suicide (ZS) is a suicide prevention framework currently being evaluated by Mental Health Research Network investigators embedded in six Health Care Systems Research Network (HCSRN) member health systems implementing ZS. This paper describes ongoing collaboration to develop population-based process improvement metrics for use in, and comparison across, these and other health systems. Robust process improvement metrics are sorely needed by the hundreds of health systems across the country preparing to implement their own best practices in suicide care. Here we articulate three examples of challenges in using health system data to assess suicide prevention activities, each in ascending order of complexity: 1) Mapping and reconciling different versions of suicide risk assessment instruments across health systems; 2) Deciding what should count as adequate suicide prevention follow-up care and how to count it in different health systems with different care processes; and 3) Trying to determine whether a safety planning discussion took place between a clinician and a patient, and if so, what actually happened. To develop broadly applicable metrics, we have advocated for standardization of care processes and their documentation, encouraged standardized screening tools and urged they be recorded as discrete electronic health record (EHR) variables, and engaged with our clinical partners and health system data architects to identify all relevant care processes and the ways they are recorded in the EHR so we are not systematically missing important data. Serving as embedded research partners in our local ZS implementation teams has facilitated this work.

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