Errors in a busy emergency department

Ann Emerg Med. 2003 Sep;42(3):324-33. doi: 10.1016/s0196-0644(03)00398-6.


Study objective: We describe errors occurring in a busy ED.

Methods: This is a prospective, observational study of reported errors at an academic emergency department (ED) with 100000 annual visits. Trained personnel interviewed all ED staff with direct patient contact, during and at the end of every shift, by using standardized data sheets.

Results: One thousand nine hundred thirty-five ED patients registered during the 7-day study period in the summer of 2001. Four hundred error reports were generated, identifying 346 nonduplicative errors (18 per 100 registered patients; 95% confidence interval [CI] 15.9 to 20.0). Forty percent of errors were reported by nurses, 25% by providers, 19% by clerical staff, 13% by technicians and orderlies, and 3% multiple reporters. Errors reported for every 100 hours worked were similar for all groups (5.5; 95% CI 5.2 to 5.9). Errors were categorized as 22% diagnostic studies, 16% administrative procedures, 16% pharmacotherapy, 13% documentation, 12% communication, 11% environmental, and 9% other. Patients involved in errors were more likely to be older (P <.0001) and more likely to have higher visit level intensity (P <.0001) than registered ED patients. Ninety-eight percent of errors did not have a significant adverse outcome. Seven errors (0.36 per 100 registered patients; 95% CI 0.14 to 0.72) were associated with an adverse outcome.

Conclusion: Reported errors occurred in almost every aspect of emergency care. Ninety-eight percent of errors in the ED do not result in adverse outcomes. System changes need to be implemented to reduce ED errors.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Academic Medical Centers
  • Chi-Square Distribution
  • Emergency Service, Hospital*
  • Humans
  • Medical Errors / statistics & numerical data*
  • Poisson Distribution
  • Prospective Studies