72h returns: A trigger tool for diagnostic error

Am J Emerg Med. 2018 Mar;36(3):359-361. doi: 10.1016/j.ajem.2017.08.019. Epub 2017 Aug 8.


Background: Patients who return to the Emergency Department (ED) within 72h of discharge are often used for ED Quality Assurance efforts, however little is known about the yield of this kind of review and the types of errors it identifies. Our objective was to identify the prevalence, types and severity of errors in these cases.

Methods: Retrospective review of patients who presented to an urban, university affiliated ED between 10/1/2012-9/30/2015 who returned within 72 h requiring hospital admission.

Results: There were 413,167 ED visits during the study period with 2001 (0.48%) patients who returned within 72h and were admitted to the hospital. An event requiring further investigation was identified in 59 (2.95%) of these patients and 50 (2.49%) of them were deemed to represent a deviation from optimal care. Of these, 48 (96%) represented diagnostic error. When a standard diagnostic process of care framework was applied to these, the majority of cases represented failures in the initial diagnostic pathway (29 cases, 60.4%). When Error Severity Codes were applied, 16 (32%) resulted in minor harm and 34 (68%) resulted in major harm or death.

Conclusion: Screening of 72h ED returns has low yield in identifying suboptimal care, with less than 3% of cases representing deviations from standard care. Of these, the majority represent cognitive errors in the diagnostic pathway. These reviews may be useful as a tool for Ongoing Professional Practice Evaluation of individual clinicians, however likely serve less value in identifying systems issues contributing to unsafe care.

MeSH terms

  • Diagnostic Errors / statistics & numerical data*
  • Emergency Service, Hospital* / statistics & numerical data
  • Humans
  • Patient Admission / statistics & numerical data
  • Prevalence
  • Quality of Health Care
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Time Factors