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Frequency and preventability of adverse drug events in the outpatient setting


Background Limited data exist regarding adverse drug events (ADEs) in the outpatient setting. The objective of this study was to determine the incidence, severity, and preventability of ADEs in the outpatient setting and identify potential prevention strategies.

Methods We conducted an analysis of ADEs identified in a retrospective electronic health records review of outpatient encounters in 2018 at 13 outpatient sites in Massachusetts that included 13 416 outpatient encounters in 3323 patients. Triggers were identified in the medical record including medications, consultations, laboratory results, and others. If a trigger was detected, a further in-depth review was conducted by nurses and adjudicated by physicians to examine the relevant information in the medical record. Patients were included in the study if they were at least 18 years of age with at least one outpatient encounter with a physician, nurse practitioner or physician’s assistant in that calendar year. Patients were excluded from the study if the outpatient encounter occurred in outpatient surgery, psychiatry, rehabilitation, and paediatrics.

Results In all, 5% of patients experienced an ADE over the 1-year period. We identified 198 ADEs among 170 patients, who had a mean age of 60. Most patients experienced one ADE (87%), 10% experienced two ADEs and 3% experienced three or more ADEs. The most frequent drug classes resulting in ADEs were cardiovascular (25%), central nervous system (14%), and anti-infective agents (14%). Severity was ranked as significant in 85%, 14% were serious, 1% were life-threatening, and there were no fatal ADEs. Of the ADEs, 22% were classified as preventable and 78% were not preventable. We identified 246 potential prevention strategies, and 23% of ADEs had more than one prevention strategy possibility.

Conclusions Despite efforts to prioritise patient safety, medication-related harms are still frequent. These results underscore the need for further patient safety improvement in the outpatient setting.

  • Patient safety
  • Ambulatory care
  • Medication safety

Data availability statement

No data are available.

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