Confidential reporting systems play a key role in capturing information about adverse surgical events. However, the value of these systems is limited if the reports that are generated are not subjected to systematic analysis. The aim of this study was to provide the first systematic analysis of data from a novel surgical confidential reporting system to delineate contributory factors in surgical incidents and document lessons that can be learned.
One-hundred and forty-five patient safety incidents submitted to the UK Confidential Reporting System for Surgery over a 10-year period were analysed using an adapted version of the empirically-grounded Yorkshire Contributory Factors Framework.
The most common factors identified as contributing to reported surgical incidents were cognitive limitations (30.09%), communication failures (16.11%) and a lack of adherence to established policies and procedures (8.81%). The analysis also revealed that adverse events were only rarely related to an isolated, single factor (20.71%) – with the majority of cases involving multiple contributory factors (79.29% of all cases had more than one contributory factor). Examination of active failures – those closest in time and space to the adverse event – pointed to frequent coupling with latent, systems-related contributory factors.
Specific patterns of errors often underlie surgical adverse events and may therefore be amenable to targeted intervention, including particular forms of training. The findings in this paper confirm the view that surgical errors tend to be multi-factorial in nature, which also necessitates a multi-disciplinary and system-wide approach to bringing about improvements.