Errors in the intensive care unit (ICU). Experiences with an anonymous registration

Acta Anaesthesiol Scand. 1999 Jul;43(6):614-7. doi: 10.1034/j.1399-6576.1999.430604.x.


Background: In order to obtain information about the occurrence and severity of errors in an ICU, this investigation was conducted in a combined ICU and postoperative ward at a Norwegian University Hospital.

Methods: An anonymous registration was conducted in order to reveal as many as possible of all errors in the unit. A separate registration form was used, recording the type of error, date and time, sex and age of the patient, patient condition (unstable/stable) and where the error occurred (on the ward or during transport). The registration started in October 1995, and reports until November 1996 are included (13 months). Consequences of the errors were graded using a 6-point scale (0=no consequences and 5=fatal). Two experienced intensivists and two experienced ICU nurses independently evaluated the errors using a visual analogue scale (VAS) with 10 as the worst imaginable error. All four were blinded to consequences of the error.

Results: A total of 87 errors was reported: 36 (41.3%) were medication errors, 17 (19.5%) related to intravenous infusions, 15 (17.2%) were due to technical equipment failure, and the rest (19 errors, 21.8%) miscellaneous. No consequences could be detected in 55 cases (63%) (grade 0). Six errors were graded as 1, and 22 (25%) as grade 2 (therapeutic intervention necessary, no damage recorded). Five errors had more serious consequences, and one was fatal. The scoring of errors varied a great deal. Mean VAS score was 4.2 (SD 1.7). The sum of VAS score (max. 40) on each error followed a normal distribution, and 12 errors had a score >25.

Conclusion: Errors happen frequently in the ICU. Probably, our data do not represent the true incidence of errors in the period, which we believe was higher. Many errors are graded as serious or severe, but still have limited consequences for the patient.

MeSH terms

  • Coronary Care Units / statistics & numerical data
  • Hospitals, University
  • Humans
  • Intensive Care Units / statistics & numerical data*
  • Medical Errors / statistics & numerical data*
  • Medication Errors / statistics & numerical data
  • Norway
  • Recovery Room / statistics & numerical data