Objective: To assess the effectiveness of housestaff physician reporting as a method for identifying adverse events on a medical service and to compare the physician reporting mechanism with a retrospective record review mechanism.
Setting: Medical service of an urban, university-affiliated teaching hospital.
Design: Concurrent physician reporting mechanism using the hospital electronic mail system compared with a retrospective record review using a screening mechanism followed by structured, implicit physician review of the record.
Patients: All 3146 admissions to the medical service from 13 November 1990 to 14 March 1991.
Results: The housestaff physician reporting method identified nearly the same number of adverse events (89) as did the record review (85). However, the two methods identified only 41 of the same patients ( = 0.52). No statistically significant clinical or socioeconomic differences occurred between the patients identified as having had an adverse event, using the two reporting methods (physician versus record review). The housestaff did report statistically more preventable adverse events (62.5% compared with 32%; P = 0.003). The physician reporting mechanism was also less costly (approximately $15 000 compared with $54 000).
Conclusion: An adverse event identification strategy based on physician self-referral uncovers as many adverse events as does a record review and is less costly. In addition, physician-identified events are more likely to be preventable and, thus, are targets for quality improvement.