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Acta Otorhinolaryngol Ital. 2005 Dec;25(6):339-46.

Medical errors and clinical risk management: state of the art.

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Direzione Sanitaria, European Institute of Oncology, Milan, Italy.


Medical errors represent a serious public health problem and pose a threat to patient safety. All patients are potentially vulnerable, therefore medical errors are costly from a human, economic, and social viewpoint. The present report aims not only to provide an overview of the problem on the basis of the published literature, but also to stress the importance of adopting standard terminology and classifications, fundamental tools for researchers to obtain valid and reliable methods for error identification and reporting. In fact, agreement on standard definitions allows comparison of data in different contexts. Errors can be classified according to their outcome, the setting where they take place (inpatient, outpatient), the kind of procedure involved (medication, surgery, etc.) or the probability of occurring (high, low). Error categories are analysed taking into consideration their prevalence, avoidance and associated factors as well as the different strategies for detecting medical errors. Incident reporting and documentation of near-misses are described as useful sources of information, and Healthcare Failure Mode Effect Analysis (HFMEA) and Root Cause Analysis (RCA) are seen as powerful methods for process analysis. Furthermore, means to increase patient safety are considered in the broader context of clinical risk management. New approaches in the field of medical errors are aimed at minimizing the recurrence of avoidable patterns associated with higher error rate. A system approach and a blame-free environment, aimed at better organizational performances, lead to much better results than focusing on individuals. Furthermore, use of technology, information accessibility, communication, patient collaboration and multi-professional team-work are successful strategies to reach the goal of patient safety within healthcare organizations.

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