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Is researching adverse events in hospital deaths a good way to describe patient safety in hospitals: a retrospective patient record review study


Objective Adverse event studies often use patient record review as a way to assess patient safety. As this is a time-consuming method, hospitals often study inpatient deaths. In this article we will assess whether this offers a representative view of the occurrence of adverse events in comparison to patients who are discharged while still living.

Design Retrospective patient record review study.

Setting and participants A total of 11 949 hospital admissions; 50% of inpatient deaths; the other half of patients discharged while alive. The data originated from our two national adverse event studies in 2004 and 2008.

Main outcome measures Overall adverse events and preventable adverse events in inpatient deaths, and in admissions of patients discharged alive. We looked at size, preventability, clinical process and type of adverse events.

Results Patients who died in hospital were on an average older, had a longer length of stay, were more often urgently admitted and were less often admitted to a surgical unit. We found twice as many adverse events and preventable adverse events in inpatient deaths than in patients discharged alive. Consistent with the differences in patient characteristics, preventable adverse events in inpatient deaths were proportionally less and were often related to the surgical process. Most types of adverse events and preventable adverse events occur in inpatient deaths as well as in patients discharged alive; however, these occur more often in inpatient deaths and are differently distributed.

Conclusions Reviewing patient records of inpatient deaths is more efficient in identifying preventable AEs than reviewing records of those discharged alive. Although many of the same types of adverse events are found, it does not offer a representative view of the number or type of adverse events.

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