Identifying trigger concepts to screen emergency department visits for diagnostic errors

Diagnosis (Berl). 2020 Nov 13;8(3):340-346. doi: 10.1515/dx-2020-0122. Print 2021 Aug 26.


Objectives: The diagnostic process is a vital component of safe and effective emergency department (ED) care. There are no standardized methods for identifying or reliably monitoring diagnostic errors in the ED, impeding efforts to enhance diagnostic safety. We sought to identify trigger concepts to screen ED records for diagnostic errors and describe how they can be used as a measurement strategy to identify and reduce preventable diagnostic harm.

Methods: We conducted a literature review and surveyed ED directors to compile a list of potential electronic health record (EHR) trigger (e-triggers) and non-EHR based concepts. We convened a multidisciplinary expert panel to build consensus on trigger concepts to identify and reduce preventable diagnostic harm in the ED.

Results: Six e-trigger and five non-EHR based concepts were selected by the expert panel. E-trigger concepts included: unscheduled ED return to ED resulting in hospital admission, death following ED visit, care escalation, high-risk conditions based on symptom-disease dyads, return visits with new diagnostic/therapeutic interventions, and change of treating service after admission. Non-EHR based signals included: cases from mortality/morbidity conferences, risk management/safety office referrals, ED medical director case referrals, patient complaints, and radiology/laboratory misreads and callbacks. The panel suggested further refinements to aid future research in defining diagnostic error epidemiology in ED settings.

Conclusions: We identified a set of e-trigger concepts and non-EHR based signals that could be developed further to screen ED visits for diagnostic safety events. With additional evaluation, trigger-based methods can be used as tools to monitor and improve ED diagnostic performance.

Keywords: diagnostic error; emergency department; patient safety; trigger concepts.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Diagnostic Errors
  • Electronic Health Records
  • Emergency Medical Services*
  • Emergency Service, Hospital*
  • Humans
  • Safety Management