n South African Journal of Surgery - Using a structured morbidity and mortality meeting to understand the contribution of human error to adverse surgical events in a South African regional hospital : general surgery




Several authors have suggested that the traditional surgical morbidity and mortality meeting be developed as a tool to identify surgical errors and turn them into learning opportunities for staff. We report our experience with these meetings.

A structured template was developed for each morbidity and mortality meeting. We used a grid to analyse mortality and classify the death as: (i) death expected/death unexpected; and (ii) death unpreventable/death preventable. Individual cases were then analysed using a combination of error taxonomies.
During the period June - December 2011, a total of 400 acute admissions (195 trauma and 205 non-trauma) were managed at Edendale Hospital, Pietermaritzburg, South Africa. During this period, 20 morbidity and mortality meetings were held, at which 30 patients were discussed. There were 10 deaths, of which 5 were unexpected and potentially avoidable. A total of 43 errors were recognised, all in the domain of the acute admissions ward. There were 33 assessment failures, 5 logistical failures, 5 resuscitation failures, 16 errors of execution and 27 errors of planning. Seven patients experienced a number of errors, of whom 5 died.
Error theory successfully dissected out the contribution of error to adverse events in our institution. Translating this insight into effective strategies to reduce the incidence of error remains a challenge. Using the examples of error identified at the meetings as educational cases may help with initiatives that directly target human error in trauma care.


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