Aiming for zero preventable deaths: using death review to improve care and reduce harm

Healthc Q. 2010:13 Spec No:81-7. doi: 10.12927/hcq.2010.21971.


In 2005, our organization set a goal of zero preventable deaths by 2010--notionally a sound goal but extremely challenging to measure, monitor and evaluate. The development of an interdisciplinary Death and Adverse Event Review process has provided a measure and framework for action to decrease adverse events (AEs) that cause harm. Death and Adverse Event Review is a formal process in which trained reviewers consider patient deaths using a modified Global Trigger Tool to establish the presence of AEs or quality of care issues that may have potentially led to death or harm. When identified, these charts go to second-level review by a physician/interdisciplinary team to determine recommendations for actions to prevent future reoccurrences. Data have provided trending of system influences to patient safety. In 2008-2009, 1,817 deaths were reviewed and AE rates of 12.1% and 16.3% were identified. There were 422 AEs and 114 quality of care issues identified for follow-up. Of the 4.7% and 6.3% referred to the physician/interdisciplinary team for secondary review, 2.3% and 2.6% resulted in recommendations for improvement. In addition to local improvements, many system improvements have occurred as a result of the review, such as proposed minimum standards for physician documentation; a formal review of post-operative guidelines for patients with sleep apnea; and a working group to review nursing documentation, communication/follow-up of vital signs, fluid balance and pain management. The Death and Adverse Event Review process provides a new critical level of detail that supports continuous improvements to our care processes and ongoing progress toward our goal of zero preventable deaths.

MeSH terms

  • Hospital Mortality*
  • Humans
  • Medical Audit*
  • Medical Errors
  • Organizational Objectives
  • Quality Assurance, Health Care / organization & administration*
  • Safety Management
  • United States