Complications on a general surgery service: incidence and reporting

K R Wanzel, C G Jamieson, J M Bohnen
Canadian Journal of Surgery. Journal Canadien de Chirurgie 2000, 43 (2): 113-7

OBJECTIVES: To determine the incidence and nature of complications on a general surgery service and to compare these results with pre-existing institutional recording and reporting methods.

DESIGN: A single observer prospectively monitored the presence and documentation of complications for all patients admitted to the general surgery service at the Wellesley Central Hospital over a 2-month period, through daily chart reviews, attendance at rounds and surgical operating rooms, frequent patient visits on the ward and interviews with the health care team.

SETTING: The general surgery service of an urban, university-affiliated teaching hospital.

PATIENTS: One hundred and ninety-two general surgery inpatients over 1277 patient-days from June 16, 1996, until Aug. 15, 1996. Same-day surgery patients were not included.

RESULTS: Seventy-five (39%) of the 192 patients suffered a total of 144 complications. Two complications (1%) were fatal, 10 (7%) were life threatening, 90 (63%) were of moderate severity and 42 (29%) were trivial. Of these 144 complications, 26 (18%) were deemed potentially attributable to error. One hundred and twelve (78%) of the complications occurred during or after a surgical operation and were related directly or indirectly to it. Only 9 (6%) complications were not documented in the progress notes of the patients' charts. However, 115 (80%) were not presented at weekly morbidity and mortality rounds, and 95 (66%) were not documented on the face sheet of the patients' final medical records.

CONCLUSIONS: Complications are common and are underreported by traditional methods. Since hospital funding and quality improvement efforts depend on accurate identification and recording of adverse events, strategies to improve the recording and reporting of complications must be developed.

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