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Qual Saf Health Care. 2010 Oct;19(5):e5. doi: 10.1136/qshc.2008.030726. Epub 2010 Feb 8.

Exploring the causes of adverse events in hospitals and potential prevention strategies.

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  • 1NIVEL, Netherlands Institute for Health Services Research, PO Box 1568, 3500 BN Utrecht, The Netherlands. m.smits@nivel.nl



To examine the causes of adverse events (AEs) and potential prevention strategies to minimise the occurrence of AEs in hospitalised patients.


For the 744 AEs identified in the patient record review study in 21 Dutch hospitals, trained reviewers were asked to select all causal factors that contributed to the AE. The results were analysed together with data on preventability and consequences of AEs. In addition, the reviewers selected one or more prevention strategies for each preventable AE. The recommended prevention strategies were analysed together with four general causal categories: technical, human, organisational and patient-related factors.


Human causes were predominantly involved in the causation of AEs (in 61% of the AEs), 61% of those being preventable and 13% leading to permanent disability. In 39% of the AEs, patient-related factors were involved, in 14% organisational factors and in 4% technical factors. Organisational causes contributed relatively often to preventable AEs (93%) and AEs resulting in permanent disability (20%). Recommended strategies to prevent AEs were quality assurance/peer review, evaluation of safety behaviour, training and procedures. For the AEs with human and patient-related causes, reviewers predominantly recommended quality assurance/peer review. AEs caused by organisational factors were considered preventable by improving procedures.


Healthcare interventions directed at human causes are recommended because these play a large role in AE causation. In addition, it seems worthwhile to direct interventions on organisational causes because the AEs they cause are nearly always believed to be preventable. Organisational factors are thus relatively easy to tackle. Future research designs should allow researchers to interview healthcare providers that were involved in the event, as an additional source of information on contributing factors.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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