Saving lives by studying deaths: using standardized mortality reviews to improve inpatient safety

Jt Comm J Qual Patient Saf. 2011 Sep;37(9):400-8. doi: 10.1016/s1553-7250(11)37050-x.


Background: Despite extensive ongoing quality improvement (QI) efforts, substantial variation existed in hospital standardized mortality ratios (HSMRs) across hospitals in Kaiser Permanente, an integrated health care delivery system. In 2008, Kaiser Permanente developed an efficient and effective method for investigating hospital-level mortality to identify patterns of potential harm.

Methods: The standardized multidisciplinary mortality review process incorporates the Institute for Healthcare Improvement Global Trigger Tools and 2x2 Mortality Matrix, elements of the United Kingdom's National Health Service (NHS) 3x2 matrix, and two groups of questions to "deep dive" into issues of preventable harm and the use of appropriate care settings. Between April 2008 and November 2009, multidisciplinary teams conducted mortality reviews of the 50 most recent inpatient deaths at 11 hospitals in Kaiser Permanente's Southern California region. An electronic chart abstraction tool facilitated rapid analysis of data. De-identified patient narratives portrayed trends and issues from a patient-centered perspective.

Results: Ten categories of harm in inpatient deaths were identified, including failure to rescue, to plan, and to communicate; harm that occurred before hospitalization; medication-related events; surgical or procedural-related harm; hospital-acquired infection and pressure ulcers; falls; and "other." Senior leaders at the study hospitals identified 36 quality improvement goals in response.

Conclusions: The mortality review process, which included quantitative data from structured chart abstraction and qualitative description of harm events, efficiently gathered important information on patterns of mortality that was not otherwise available, enabling hospitals to identify trends and focus improvement efforts.

MeSH terms

  • California
  • Data Collection / methods
  • Health Status Indicators*
  • Hospital Mortality*
  • Humans
  • Multi-Institutional Systems
  • Peer Review, Health Care / methods*
  • Quality Improvement*
  • Safety Management / methods*