Medical errors threaten patient safety, especially in the pediatric emergency department (ED) where overcrowding, multiple handoffs, and workflow interruptions are common. Errors related to process variance involve situations that are not consistent with standard ED operations or routine patient care.
We performed a planned subanalysis of the Pediatric Emergency Care Applied Research Network incident reporting data classified as process variance events. Confidential deidentified incident reports (IRs) were collected and classified by 2 independent investigators. Events categorized as process variance were then subtyped for severity and contributing factors. Data were analyzed using descriptive statistics.
The study intention was to describe and measure reported medical errors related to process variance in 17 EDs in the Pediatric Emergency Care Applied Research Network from 2007 to 2008.
Between July 2007 and June 2008, 2906 eligible reports were reviewed. Process variance events were identified in 15.4% (447/2906). The majority were related to patient flow (35.4%), handoff communication (17.2%), and patient identification errors (15.9%). Most staff involved included nurses (47.9%) and physicians (28%); trainees were infrequently reported. The majority of events did not result in harm (65.7%); 17.9% (80/447) of cases were classified as unsafe conditions but did not reach the patient. Temporary harm requiring further treatment or hospitalization was reported in 5.6% (25/447). No events resulted in permanent harm, near death, or death. Contributing factors included human factors (92.1%), in particular handoff communication, interpersonal skills, and compliance with established procedures, and system-level errors (18.1%), including unclear or unavailable policies and inadequate staffing levels.
Although process variance events accounted for approximately 1 in 6 reported safety events, very few led to patient harm. Because human and system-level factors contributed to most of these events, our data provide an insight into potential areas for further investigation and improvements to mitigate errors in the ED setting.