Iatrogenic events resulting in intensive care admission: frequency, cause, and disclosure to patients and institutions

Am J Med. 2005 Apr;118(4):409-13. doi: 10.1016/j.amjmed.2005.01.012.


Purpose: To identify the frequency and type of iatrogenic medical events requiring admission to an intensive care unit. To assess the consequences of iatrogenic medical events for patients and institutions. To assess the prevalence of disclosure of iatrogenic medical events to patients, surrogates, and institutions.

Methods: The project on Care Improvement for the Critically Ill enrolled 5727 patients to 8 intensive care units at 4 Boston teaching hospitals. To determine the nature, consequences, and disclosure of iatrogenic medical events, we did a retrospective chart review on all patients whose admission to an intensive care unit was precipitated by an iatrogenic event.

Results: Sixty-six patients (1.2 %) were identified by an intensive care unit's clinical team as having an iatrogenic medical event as the primary reason for admission to the unit. The majority (29, or 45%) of iatrogenic medical events were secondary to technical error, but a high percentage (21, or 33%) was due to iatrogenic drug events. Twenty-two (34%) cases were assessed by the investigators to have been preventable. In 60 (94%) cases there was no documentation in the patient's chart of communication to the patient regarding the reason for admission to the intensive care unit. In 11 (17%) cases there was documentation of a discussion with the surrogate about the reason for admission to the unit. In only 3 (5%) cases was there documentation that the patient or surrogate was informed that an iatrogenic medical event was the reason for admission to the intensive care unit. Incident reports or malpractice claims were filed in only 4 (6 %) cases.

Conclusion: The frequency of iatrogenic medical events resulting in admission to intensive care units is lower than previous studies have reported. Iatrogenic drug events continue to be an important source of error. A considerable percentage of iatrogenic events may be preventable. Health care professionals rarely document disclosure of iatrogenic events to patients and surrogates.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Drug-Related Side Effects and Adverse Reactions
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Iatrogenic Disease*
  • Insurance Claim Reporting / statistics & numerical data
  • Intensive Care Units / statistics & numerical data*
  • Male
  • Massachusetts
  • Middle Aged
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Risk Management
  • Truth Disclosure*