The estimated number of in-hospitals deaths due to adverse events is often different when using data from deceased patients compared with that of a population experiencing adverse events.
The study was conducted at three hospitals in the Bergen Hospital Trust, including a 950-bed university hospital. The objective was to study the reported deaths and investigate the probable number of deaths caused by adverse events. Information about all patients who died in the hospitals during 2011 was retrieved from the electronic patient data management system and the medical records. All deaths were classified into two groups according to Norwegian law based on whether or not the death was sudden and/or unexpected. The cause of death in the latter group was further classified as being due to either natural or unnatural causes according to national requirements. An expert review panel screened the patient records for information regarding adverse events and possible (≥ 50%) preventability. Age, length of hospital stay, and Charlson Comorbidity Index were also registered.
There were 59,605 unique patients admitted in 2011 and 1185 registered deaths (1.98%). The mean and median ages of the deceased were 73,8 and 78 years, respectively, and the median length of stay was 5.6 days (range). Of these deaths, 290 (24.5%) were considered sudden and/or unexpected and 218 were considered to be due to natural causes. Of the 72 unnatural deaths, 16 (1.4%) were classified as preventable or probably preventable. For 18 deaths (%) it was impossible to confirm or rule out preventability.
Using this method, we identified a small proportion of hospital deaths that could be classified as unnatural. Furthermore, there was a ≥ 50% chance or more that 34 deaths (2.9%) were due to causes that could have been prevented.