Objective: To determine the adverse event (AE) rate for surgical patients in Australia.
Design: A two-stage retrospective medical record review was conducted to determine the occurrence of AEs in hospital admissions. Medical records were screened for 18 criteria and positive records were reviewed by two medical officers using a structured questionnaire.
Setting: Admissions in 1992 to 28 randomly selected hospitals in Australia.
Study participants: Five hundred and twenty eligible admissions were randomly selected from in-patient database in each hospital. A total of 14,179 medical records were reviewed, with 8747 medical and 5432 surgical admissions.
Main outcome measures: Measures included the rate of AEs in surgical and medical admissions, the proportion resulting in permanent disability and death, the proportion determined to be highly preventable, and the identification of risk factors associated with AEs.
Results: The AE rate for surgical admissions was 21.9%. Disability that was resolved within 12 months occurred in 83%, 13% had permanent disability, and 4% resulted in death. Reviewers found that 48% of AEs were highly preventable. The risk of an AE depended on the procedure and increased with age and length of stay.
Conclusion: The high AE rate for surgical procedures supports the need for monitoring and intervention strategies. The 18 screening criteria provide a tool to identify admissions with a greater risk of a surgical AE. Risk factors for an AE were age and procedure, and these should be assessed prior to surgery. Prophylactic interventions for infection and deep vein thrombosis could reduce the occurrence of AEs in hospitals.