Systematic approaches to adverse events in obstetrics, Part I: Event identification and classification

Semin Perinatol. 2017 Apr;41(3):151-155. doi: 10.1053/j.semperi.2017.03.003. Epub 2017 May 23.


Despite our best intentions to improve health when a patient presents for care, adverse events are ubiquitous in medical practice today. Known complications related to the course of a patient's illness or condition or to the characteristics of the treatment have been an openly stated part of taking care of patients for centuries. However, it is only in the past decade that preventable adverse events, instances of harm related to error and deviations in accepted practice have become a primary part of these conversations. Human and system errors are an innate part of working in a complex environment like health care and we are now well aware of this burden in medicine. Now, we are building ways to react to adverse events from error in systematic ways. A systematic approach to identifying and classifying events is a critical part of any safety program, let alone an obstetric safety program. This article reviews the various systems that are used to identify adverse events, in particular sentinel events, state reportable events, and the significant local adverse "trigger" events in obstetrics. These events typically become identified through robust reporting systems where staff can report adverse, near-miss events, or precursor safety events. After events are reported, a system for classifying events, including a structured tracking and reporting system with built in accountability, is necessary. The concept of the "serious safety event," and how these differ from known complications or unpreventable events, and how this is classified are also reviewed.

Keywords: Adverse events; Reportable events; Sentinel events; Serious safety events.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Electronic Health Records
  • Female
  • Guideline Adherence* / standards
  • Humans
  • Iatrogenic Disease / prevention & control
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Medical Errors / prevention & control
  • Medical Errors / statistics & numerical data*
  • Obstetric Labor Complications / classification*
  • Obstetrics* / standards
  • Patient Safety
  • Practice Guidelines as Topic
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy Complications / classification*
  • Quality Assurance, Health Care / standards*
  • Root Cause Analysis
  • Safety Management / standards*
  • Terminology as Topic