A comprehensive overview of medical error in hospitals using incident-reporting systems, patient complaints and chart review of inpatient deaths

PLoS One. 2012;7(2):e31125. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0031125. Epub 2012 Feb 16.


Background: Incident reporting systems (IRS) are used to identify medical errors in order to learn from mistakes and improve patient safety in hospitals. However, IRS contain only a small fraction of occurring incidents. A more comprehensive overview of medical error in hospitals may be obtained by combining information from multiple sources. The WHO has developed the International Classification for Patient Safety (ICPS) in order to enable comparison of incident reports from different sources and institutions.

Methods: The aim of this paper was to provide a more comprehensive overview of medical error in hospitals using a combination of different information sources. Incident reports collected from IRS, patient complaints and retrospective chart review in an academic acute care hospital were classified using the ICPS. The main outcome measures were distribution of incidents over the thirteen categories of the ICPS classifier "Incident type", described as odds ratios (OR) and proportional similarity indices (PSI).

Results: A total of 1012 incidents resulted in 1282 classified items. Large differences between data from IRS and patient complaints (PSI = 0.32) and from IRS and retrospective chart review (PSI = 0.31) were mainly attributable to behaviour (OR = 6.08), clinical administration (OR = 5.14), clinical process (OR = 6.73) and resources (OR = 2.06).

Conclusions: IRS do not capture all incidents in hospitals and should be combined with complementary information about diagnostic error and delayed treatment from patient complaints and retrospective chart review. Since incidents that are not recorded in IRS do not lead to remedial and preventive action in response to IRS reports, healthcare centres that have access to different incident detection methods should harness information from all sources to improve patient safety.

MeSH terms

  • Data Collection / standards*
  • Hospital Mortality
  • Hospitals
  • Humans
  • Medical Errors / statistics & numerical data*
  • Patient Satisfaction / statistics & numerical data*
  • Risk Management / standards*