Patient safety and errors in medicine: Development, prevention and analyses of incidents

M Rall, Tanja Manser, H Guggenberger, D M Gaba, K Unertl

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

53 Citations (Scopus)


"Patient safety" and "errors in medicine" are issues gaining more and more prominence in the eyes of the public. According to newer studies, errors in medicine are among the ten major causes of death in association with the whole area of health care. A new era has begun incorporating attention to a "systems" approach to deal with errors and their causes in the health system. In other high-risk domains with a high demand for safety (such as the nuclear power industry and aviation) many strategies to enhance safety have been established. It is time to study these strategies, to adapt them if necessary and apply them to the field of medicine. These strategies include: to teach people how errors evolve in complex working domains and how types of errors are classified; the introduction of critical incident reporting systems that are free of negative consequences for the reporters; the promotion of continuous medical education; and the development of generic problem-solving skills incorporating the extensive use of realistic simulators wherever possible. Interestingly, the field of anesthesiology - within which realistic simulators were developed - is referred to as a model for the new patient safety movement. Despite this proud trade record in recent times though, there is still much to be done even in the field of anesthesiology. Overall though, the most important strategy towards a long-term improvement in patient safety will be a change of "culture" throughout the entire health care system. The "culture of blame" focused on individuals should be replaced by a "safety culture", that sees errors and critical incidents as a problem of the whole organization. The acceptance of human fallability and an open-minded non-punitive analysis of errors in the sense of a "preventive and proactive safety culture" should lead to solutions at the systemic level. This change in culture can only be achieved with a strong commitment from the highest levels of an organization. Patient safety must have the highest priority in the goals of the institution: "Primum nihil nocere" - "First, do not harm".

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)321-330
Number of pages10
JournalAna¨sthesiologie, Intensivmedizin, Notfallmedizin, Schmerztherapie: AINS
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2001


  • safety culture
  • critical incidents
  • CRM
  • crisis resource-management
  • anesthetic mishaps
  • reporting systems
  • reducing errors
  • operating-room
  • health-care
  • knowledge
  • aviation
  • lessons
  • models


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