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Acad Emerg Med. 2003 Dec;10(12):1318-24.

Resident perceptions of medical errors in the emergency department.

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  • 1University of Michigan, Department of Emergency Medicine, Ann Arbor, MI, USA.



To evaluate resident experience and perceptions of medical error associated with emergency department (ED) care.


Using a semistructured interview protocol, three researchers interviewed 26 randomly selected medical, surgical, and obstetrics residents regarding medical error. The authors chose a 16-case subset of incidents involving ED care for initial review. Interview transcripts were reviewed iteratively to draw out recurrent categories and themes. Two investigators separately analyzed all cases to ensure common understanding and agreement.


Most cases involved misdiagnosis, misread radiographs, or inappropriate disposition. Two thirds of the case patients died or experienced delays in care. Residents felt that the complexity of the patients, as well as the complexity of their own jobs, contributed to error. Attending supervision, nurse evaluation, and additional physician involvement all were noted to be important checks within the hospital system. Residents most often held the ED responsible for error. In addition, they deemed themselves, their teams, and their lack of training responsible. Though residents often discussed events with their admitting teams, follow-up with the ED or other associated individuals was uncommon. The findings revealed seven common themes that include factors contributing to errors, checks and adaptations, and follow-up of the event.


Residents are aware of medical error and able to recall events in detail. Whereas events are discussed among inpatient teams, little information finds its way back to the ED, potentially resulting in misunderstandings between departments and hindering learning from events. In-depth interviewing allows a nuanced and detailed approach to error analysis.

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