Identifying adverse drug events: development of a computer-based monitor and comparison with chart review and stimulated voluntary report

J Am Med Inform Assoc. 1998 May-Jun;5(3):305-14. doi: 10.1136/jamia.1998.0050305.


Background: Adverse drug events (ADEs) are both common and costly. Most hospitals identify ADEs using spontaneous reporting, but this approach lacks sensitivity; chart review identifies more events but is expensive. Computer-based approaches to ADE identification appear promising, but they have not been directly compared with chart review and they are not widely used.

Objectives: To develop a computer-based ADE monitor, and to compare the rate and type of ADEs found with the monitor with those discovered by chart review and by stimulated voluntary report.

Design: Prospective cohort study in one tertiary-care hospital.

Participants: All patients admitted to nine medical and surgical units in a tertiary-care hospital over an eight-month period.

Main outcome measure: Adverse drug events identified by the computer-based monitor, by chart review, and by stimulated voluntary report.

Methods: A computer-based monitoring program identified alerts, which were situations suggesting that an ADE might be present (e.g., an order for an antidote such as naloxone). A trained reviewer then examined patients' hospital records to determine whether an ADE had occurred. The results of the computer-based monitoring strategy were compared with two other ADE detection strategies: intensive chart review and stimulated voluntary report by nurses and pharmacists. The monitor and the chart review strategies were independent, and the reviewers were blinded.

Results: The computer monitoring strategy identified 2,620 alerts, of which 275 were determined to be ADEs. The chart review found 398 ADEs, whereas voluntary report detected 23. Of the 617 ADEs detected by at least one method, 76 ADEs were detected by both computer monitor and chart review. The computer monitor identified 45 percent; chart review, 65 percent; and voluntary report, 4 percent. The ADEs identified by computer monitor were more likely to be classified as "severe" than were those identified by chart review (51 versus 42 percent, p = .04). The positive predictive value of computer-generated alerts was 16 percent during the first eight weeks of the study; rule modifications increased this to 23 percent in the final eight weeks. The computer strategy required 11 person-hours per week to execute, whereas chart review required 55 person-hours per week and voluntary report strategy required 5.

Conclusions: The computer-based monitor identified fewer ADEs than did chart review but many more ADEs than did stimulated voluntary report. The overlap among the ADEs identified using different methods was small, suggesting that the incidence of ADEs may be higher than previously reported and that different detection methods capture different events. The computer-based monitoring system represents an efficient approach for measuring ADE frequency and gauging the effectiveness of ADE prevention programs.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adverse Drug Reaction Reporting Systems*
  • Computer Systems*
  • Medical Audit
  • Predictive Value of Tests
  • Risk Management / methods