, Volume 69, Issue 1, pp 75-85,
Open Access This content is freely available online to anyone, anywhere at any time.
Date: 07 Jun 2012

Recognition of adverse drug events in older hospitalized medical patients



To assess medical teams’ ability to recognize adverse drug events (ADEs) in older inpatients.


The study cohort comprised 250 patients aged 65 years or older consecutively admitted to Internal Medicine wards of three hospitals in the Netherlands between April and November 2007. An independent expert team identified ADEs present upon admission or occurring during hospitalization by a structured retrospective patient chart review. For all ADEs identified, the expert team assessed causality, severity, preventability, and recognition by medical teams.


The medical teams did not recognize 19.9 % of all ADEs present upon admission {60.4 ADEs [95 % confidence interval (CI) 51.5–70.8] per 100 hospitalizations} and 20.3 % of all ADEs occurring during the hospital stay [47.2 ADEs (95 % CI 39.4–56.5) per 100 hospitalizations]. Unrecognized ADEs were significantly more often ADEs with possible causality (p=0.014, df=1), ADEs caused by medication errors (p<0.001, df=1), and ADEs not manifesting as new symptoms (p<0.001, df=1). The medical teams did not recognize 23.2 % of mild to moderately severe ADEs and 16.5 % of severe, life-threatening, or fatal ADEs. The recognition of ADEs varied with event type.


The recognition of ADEs by medical teams was substantial for those ADEs with evident causality and with clinically apparent and severe consequences. ADEs mimicking underlying pathologies with a lower severity went unrecognized much more often, as did those resulting only in abnormal laboratory values. Tools to improve the recognition of ADEs by medical teams should, therefore, focus on those ADEs that are more challenging to detect.

Trial registration: International Standard Randomized Controlled Trial Number Register ISRCTN64974377