Adverse events in the paediatric emergency department: a prospective cohort study

Background Understanding adverse events among children treated in the emergency department (ED) offers an opportunity to improve patient safety by providing evidence of where to focus efforts in a resource-restricted environment.

Objective To estimate the risk of adverse events, their type, preventability and severity, for children seen in a paediatric ED.

Methods This prospective cohort study examined outcomes of patients presenting to a paediatric ED over a 1-year period. The primary outcome was the proportion of patients with an adverse event (harm to patient related to healthcare received) related to ED care within 3 weeks of their visit. We conducted structured telephone interviews with all patients and families over a 3-week period following their visit to identify flagged outcomes (such as repeat ED visits, worsening symptoms) and screened admitted patients’ health records with a validated trigger tool. For patients with flagged outcomes or triggers, three ED physicians independently determined whether an adverse event occurred.

Results Of 1567 eligible patients, 1367 (87.2%) were enrolled and 1319 (96.5%) reached in follow-up. Median patient age was 4.34 years (IQR 1.5 to 10.57 years) and most (n=1281; 93.7%) were discharged. Among those with follow-up, 33 (2.5%, 95% CI 1.8% to 3.5%) suffered an adverse event related to ED care. None experienced more than one event. Twenty-nine adverse events (87.9%, 95% CI 72.7% to 95.2%) were deemed preventable. The most common types of adverse events (not mutually exclusive) were management issues (51.5%), diagnostic issues (45.5%) and suboptimal follow-up (15.2%).

Conclusion One in 40 children suffered adverse events related to ED care. A high proportion of events were preventable. Management and diagnostic issues warrant further study.

Lead Researchers

  • Sandy Tse

    Investigator, CHEO Research Institute

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  1. Sandy Tse

    Investigator, CHEO Research Institute

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  2. Amy Plint

    Senior Scientist, CHEO Research Institute

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  3. Robert Klaassen

    Scientist, CHEO Research Institute

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