Background: Adverse drug events (ADEs) occur frequently, and serious ADEs are associated with mortality or prolonged morbidity. As many ADEs are preventable, identification and modification of systems and processes that permit ADEs has the potential to reduce the rate of ADEs.
Methods: Root cause analysis was systematically employed in a blame-free fashion to investigate the patterns of serious ADEs that occurred during a 29-month period at Hermann Hospital (Houston), and process improvements were implemented on the basis of these findings. The consistently nonpunitive responses to the results of the initial and subsequent root cause analyses was gradually seen, accepted, and ultimately embraced by the hospital staff.
Results: The most commonly identified root causes were environmental factors (for example, increased census, increased acuity, change of shift) and staffing issues (for example, personnel new to a unit). Policy changes that led to increased use of forcing or constraining functions (for example, removal of concentrated intravenous potassium solutions from floor stocks) and better personnel support (for example, early awareness and response to localized increases in census and acuity) were particularly effective. Although limited by our lack of active surveillance and not necessarily directly due to the process changes that we implemented, the rate of voluntarily reported serious ADEs/100,000 patient days decreased during this time from 7.2 to 4.0, a decline of 45% (p < 0.001).
Conclusion: Systematic application of root cause analysis followed by implementation of process changes that target the underlying cause(s) of each event can be successfully implemented in a large hospital.