Classification and Consequences of Errors in Otolaryngology

Authors

  • Rahul K. Shah MD,

    1. Department of Otolaryngology, Tufts University School of Medicine, Helsinki, Finland
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  • Erna Kentala MD,

    1. Department of Otolaryngology, Helsinki University Central Hospital, Helsinki, Finland
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  • Gerald B. Healy MD,

    1. Department of Otolaryngology and Communication Disorders, Children's Hospital Boston, Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA, U.S.A.
    2. Department of Otology and Laryngology, Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA, U.S.A.
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  • David W. Roberson MD

    Corresponding author
    1. Department of Otolaryngology and Communication Disorders, Children's Hospital Boston, Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA, U.S.A.
    2. Department of Otology and Laryngology, Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA, U.S.A.
    • Dr. David W. Roberson, Department of Otolaryngology and Communication Disorders, Children's Hospital Boston, Fegan 9, Boston, MA 02111, U.S.A.
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  • Presented at the Triological Society Annual Meeting, Scottsdale, AZ, April 30, 2004.

    Supported by the Joshua Shapiro Fund and The Childrens Hospital Otolaryngology Foundation Research Fund.

Abstract

Objective: To develop a preliminary classification system for errors in otolaryngology.

Methods: A retrospective, anonymous survey was distributed to 2,500 members of the American Academy of Otolaryngology–Head and Neck Surgery (AAO-HNS). Respondents were asked whether an error had occurred in their practice in the last 6 months, and if so, to describe the error, its consequences, and any corrective action taken.

Results: There were 466 (18.6%) responses. Two hundred ten (45% of respondents) otolaryngologists reported 216 errors. A classification system for errors in otolaryngology was developed. Errors were classified as related to history and physical (1.4%), differential or final diagnosis (1.4%), testing (10.4%), surgical planning (9.9%), wrong-site surgery (6.1%), anesthesia-related (3.3%), wrong drug/dilution on the surgical field (3.8%), technical (19.3%), retained foreign body (0.9%), equipment-related (9.4%), postoperative care (8.5%), medical management (13.7%), nursing/ancillary (0.5%), administrative (6.6%), communication (3.8%), and miscellaneous (0.9%). There were 78 cases of major morbidity and 9 deaths. If these data are representative, there may be more than 2,600 episodes of major morbidity and more than 165 deaths related to medical error in otolaryngology patients annually.

Conclusions: Human error in otolaryngology occurs in all practice components, including diagnostic, treatment, surgical, communication, and administrative. Types of errors reported by otolaryngologists differ from those reported by other specialists. Error classification systems may need to reflect each specialty's realm of practice. Errors in otolaryngology cause appreciable morbidity and mortality. Quantitative study of errors and the development of targeted prevention and amelioration strategies should be a high priority.

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