The missing evidence: a systematic review of patients' experiences of adverse events in health care

Int J Qual Health Care. 2015 Dec;27(6):424-42. doi: 10.1093/intqhc/mzv075. Epub 2015 Sep 29.


Purpose: Preventable patient harm due to adverse events (AEs) is a significant health problem today facing contemporary health care. Knowledge of patients' experiences of AEs is critical to improving health care safety and quality. A systematic review of studies of patients' experiences of AEs was conducted to report their experiences, knowledge gaps and any challenges encountered when capturing patient experience data.

Data sources: Key words, synonyms and subject headings were used to search eight electronic databases from January 2000 to February 2015, in addition to hand-searching of reference lists and relevant journals.

Study selection: Titles and abstracts of publications were screened by two reviewers and checked by a third. Full-text articles were screened against the eligibility criteria.

Data extraction: Data on design, methods and key findings were extracted and collated.

Results: Thirty-three publications demonstrated patients identifying a range of problems in their care; most commonly identified were medication errors, communication and coordination of care problems. Patients' income, education, health burden and marital status influence likelihood of reporting. Patients report distress after an AE, often exacerbated by receiving inadequate information about the cause. Investigating patients' experiences is hampered by the lack of large representative patient samples, data over sufficient time periods and varying definitions of an AE.

Conclusion: Despite the emergence of policy initiatives to enhance patient engagement, few studies report patients' experiences of AEs. This information must be routinely captured and utilized to develop effective, patient-centred and system-wide policies to minimize and manage AEs.

Keywords: health services research; hospital incident reporting; medical error; patient participation; patient safety; quality of health care.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Female
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Medical Errors*
  • Patients / psychology*