Iatrogenic complications in adult intensive care units: a prospective two-center study

Crit Care Med. 1993 Jan;21(1):40-51. doi: 10.1097/00003246-199301000-00011.


Objectives: a) To evaluate the frequency, types, severity, and morbidity of iatrogenic complications; b) determine associated factors that favor iatrogenic complications; and c) suggest new or more efficient protective measures that may be taken to improve patient safety.

Design: Prospective, observational study.

Setting: Two ICUs in France.

Patients and methods: The study included 382 patients (age > or = 15 yrs; 400 consecutive admissions). Patients were monitored by two physicians in each ICU to assess all iatrogenic complications occurring during their ICU stay, with the exception of adverse effects of drugs. An iatrogenic complication was defined as an adverse event that was independent of the patient's underlying disease.

Results: We observed 316 iatrogenic complications in 124 (31%) of the 400 admissions. Of these iatrogenic complications, 107 (in 53 [13%] of the 400 admissions) complications were major, three leading to death. Severe hypotension, respiratory distress, pneumothorax, and cardiac arrest represented 78% of the major iatrogenic complications. Fifty-nine percent of the major iatrogenic complications had clearly identified associated factors. Human errors accounted for 67% of these factors. Patients > 65 yrs (adjusted odds ratio = 2.6, 95% confidence interval: 1.4 to 4.9) and those patients admitted with two or more organ failures (adjusted odds ratio = 4.8, 95% confidence interval: 2.5 to 9.2) were more likely to develop major iatrogenic complications. High or excessive nursing workload also led to an increased risk of major iatrogenic complications. Persistent morbidity, secondary to iatrogenic complications at the time of discharge, was present in five survivors. The risk of ICU death was about two-fold higher for the patients with major iatrogenic complications than in the remaining patients after adjusting for the Organ System Failure Score and the prognosis of the disease (relative risk = 1.92, 95% confidence interval: 1.28 to 2.56).

Conclusions: Major iatrogenic complications were frequent, associated with increased morbidity and mortality rates, related to high or excessive nursing workload, and were often secondary to human errors. To improve patient safety in our ICUs, preventive measures should be targeted primarily on the elderly and the most severely ill patients. Special attention should be given to improving the organization of workload and training, and promoting wider use of noninvasive monitoring.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / etiology
  • Critical Care / standards
  • Equipment Failure
  • Female
  • France / epidemiology
  • Humans
  • Iatrogenic Disease / epidemiology*
  • Intensive Care Units / standards*
  • Intensive Care Units / statistics & numerical data
  • Lung Diseases / etiology
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Monitoring, Physiologic / methods
  • Nursing Staff, Hospital
  • Outcome Assessment, Health Care
  • Prospective Studies
  • Risk Factors
  • Workload