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The anatomy and physiology of error in adverse health care events

Patient Safety and Health Care Management

ISBN: 978-1-84663-954-8, eISBN: 978-1-84663-955-5

Publication date: 25 July 2008


Recent reports by the Institute of Medicine (IOM) signal a substantial yet unrealized deficit in patient safety innovation and improvement. With the aim of reducing this dilemma, we provide an introductory account of clinical error resulting from poorly designed systems by reviewing the relevant health care, management, psychology, and organizational accident sciences literature. First, we discuss the concept of health care error and describe two approaches to analyze error proliferation and causation. Next, by applying transdisciplinary evidence and knowledge to health care, we detail the attributes fundamental to constructing safer health care systems as embedded components within the complex adaptive environment. Then, the Health Care Error Proliferation Model explains the sequence of events typically leading to adverse outcomes, emphasizing the role that organizational and external cultures contribute to error identification, prevention, mitigation, and defense construction. Subsequently, we discuss the critical contribution health care leaders can make to address error as they strive to position their institution as a high reliability organization (HRO). Finally, we conclude that the future of patient safety depends on health care leaders adopting a system philosophy of error management, investigation, mitigation, and prevention. This change is accomplished when leaders apply the basic organizational accident and health care safety principles within their respective organizations.


Palmieri, P.A., DeLucia, P.R., Peterson, L.T., Ott, T.E. and Green, A. (2008), "The anatomy and physiology of error in adverse health care events", Savage, G.T. and Ford, E.W. (Ed.) Patient Safety and Health Care Management (Advances in Health Care Management, Vol. 7), Emerald Group Publishing Limited, Leeds, pp. 33-68.



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