Identification of adverse events occurring during hospitalization. A cross-sectional study of litigation, quality assurance, and medical records at two teaching hospitals

Ann Intern Med. 1990 Feb 1;112(3):221-6. doi: 10.7326/0003-4819-112-3-221.


Study objectives: To estimate the efficacy of a medical record review for identifying adverse events and negligent case suffered by hospitalized patients.

Design: Cross-sectional study comparing an objective medical record review with information available from hospital quality assurance records as well as risk management and litigation records.

Setting: Two metropolitan teaching hospitals in the northeastern United States.

Measurements and main results: Using the litigation and risk management records as a criterion standard, we found that the medical record review had a sensitivity of 80% (93 of 116; 95% CI, 73% to 88%) for discovering adverse events and a sensitivity of 76% (51 of 67; 95% CI, 66% to 86%) for discovering negligent care. We estimated that record review of a random sample of hospitalizations across a geographic region would have even higher sensitivity (adverse-event sensitivity, 84%; negligence sensitivity, 80%). Moreover, we found that the adverse events we failed to discover led to less costly malpractice claims. A significant number of adverse events (20 of 172) among hospitalizations never gave rise to litigation or risk management investigation. Six of the twenty were due to negligent care. Quality assurance efforts at the level of the clinical departments in one hospital led to review of only 12 out of 82 risk management records.

Conclusions: The overwhelming majority of adverse events and episodes of negligent care are discoverable with the methods we used to evaluate medical records. Quality assurance efforts using similar record review methods should be further evaluated.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Data Interpretation, Statistical
  • Hospital Records*
  • Hospitals, Teaching / standards*
  • Insurance Claim Review
  • Malpractice / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Medical Audit*
  • Quality Assurance, Health Care*
  • Risk Management*
  • Sensitivity and Specificity