Comparing rates of adverse events detected in incident reporting and the Global Trigger Tool: a systematic review

Peter D. Hibbert, Charlotte J. Molloy, Timothy J. Schultz, Andrew Carson-Stevens, Jeffrey Braithwaite

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)
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Many hospitals continue to use incident reporting systems (IRSs) as their primary patient safety data source. The information IRSs collect on the frequency of harm to patients [adverse events (AEs)] is generally of poor quality, and some incident types (e.g. diagnostic errors) are under-reported. Other methods of collecting patient safety information using medical record review, such as the Global Trigger Tool (GTT), have been developed. The aim of this study was to undertake a systematic review to empirically quantify the gap between the percentage of AEs detected using the GTT to those that are also detected via IRSs. The review was conducted in adherence to the Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses (PRISMA) statement. Studies published in English, which collected AE data using the GTT and IRSs, were included. In total, 14 studies met the inclusion criteria. All studies were undertaken in hospitals and were published between 2006 and 2022. The studies were conducted in six countries, mainly in the USA (nine studies). Studies reviewed 22 589 medical records using the GTT across 107 institutions finding 7166 AEs. The percentage of AEs detected using the GTT that were also detected in corresponding IRSs ranged from 0% to 37.4% with an average of 7.0% (SD 9.1; median 3.9 and IQR 5.2). Twelve of the fourteen studies found <10% of the AEs detected using the GTT were also found in corresponding IRSs. The >10-fold gap between the detection rates of the GTT and IRSs is strong evidence that the rate of AEs collected in IRSs in hospitals should not be used to measure or as a proxy for the level of safety of a hospital. IRSs should be recognized for their strengths which are to detect rare, serious, and new incident types and to enable analysis of contributing and contextual factors to develop preventive and corrective strategies. Health systems should use multiple patient safety data sources to prioritize interventions and promote a cycle of action and improvement based on data rather than merely just collecting and analysing information.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbermzad056
Number of pages8
JournalInternational Journal For Quality in Health Care
Issue number3
Early online date13 Jul 2023
Publication statusPublished - 2023


  • adverse events
  • healthcare Global Trigger Tool
  • hospital incident reporting
  • patient safety
  • quality of care
  • systematic review


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