The identification of medical errors by family physicians during outpatient visits

Nancy C. Elder, Mary Beth Vonder Meulen, Amy Cassedy

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

104 Scopus citations


BACKGROUND: We wanted to describe errors and preventable adverse events identified by family physicians during the office-based clinical encounter and to determine the physicians' perception of patient harm resulting from these events. METHOD: We sampled Cincinnati area family physicians representing different practice locations and demographics. After each clinical encounter, physicians completed a form identifying process errors and preventable adverse events. Brief interviews were held with physicians to ascertain their perceptions of harm or potential harm to the patient. RESULTS: Fifteen physicians in 7 practices completed forms for 351 outpatient visits. Errors and preventable adverse events were identified in 24% of these visits. There was wide variation in how often individual physicians identified errors (3% to 60% of visits). Office administration errors were most frequently noted. Harm was believe to have occurred as a result of 24% of the errors, and was a potential in another 70%. Although most harm was believed to be minor, there was disagreement as to whether to include emotional discomfort and wasted time as patient harm. CONCLUSIONS: Family physicians identify errors and preventable adverse events frequently during patient visits, but there is variation in how some error categories are interpreted and how harm is defined.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)125-129
Number of pages5
JournalAnnals of family medicine
Issue number2
StatePublished - Mar 2004
Externally publishedYes


  • Delivery of health care
  • Diagnostic errors
  • Health services research
  • Medical errors
  • Medication errors
  • Patient safety

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Family Practice


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