Patient error : a preliminary taxonomy

Buetow, Stephen, Kiata, Liz, Liew, Tess, Kenealy, Tim, Dovey, Sue, & Elwyn, Glyn (2009) Patient error : a preliminary taxonomy. Annals of Family Medicine, 7(3), pp. 223-231.

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Current research on errors in health care focuses almost exclusively on system and clinician error. It tends to exclude how patients may create errors that influence their health. We aimed to identify the types of errors that patients can contribute and help manage, especially in primary care.


Eleven nominal group interviews of patients and primary health care professionals were held in Auckland, New Zealand, during late 2007. Group members reported and helped to classify types of potential error by patients. We synthesized the ideas that emerged from the nominal groups into a taxonomy of patient error.


Our taxonomy is a 3-level system encompassing 70 potential types of patient error. The first level classifies 8 categories of error into 2 main groups: action errors and mental errors. The action errors, which result in part or whole from patient behavior, are attendance errors, assertion errors, and adherence errors. The mental errors, which are errors in patient thought processes, comprise memory errors, mindfulness errors, misjudgments, and—more distally—knowledge deficits and attitudes not conducive to health.


The taxonomy is an early attempt to understand and recognize how patients may err and what clinicians should aim to influence so they can help patients act safely. This approach begins to balance perspectives on error but requires further research. There is a need to move beyond seeing patient, clinician, and system errors as separate categories of error. An important next step may be research that attempts to understand how patients, clinicians, and systems interact to cocreate and reduce errors.

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22 citations in Web of Science®

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ID Code: 63222
Item Type: Journal Article
Refereed: Yes
Keywords: patient error, medication
DOI: 10.1370/afm.941
ISSN: 1544-1709
Subjects: Australian and New Zealand Standard Research Classification > MEDICAL AND HEALTH SCIENCES (110000) > PUBLIC HEALTH AND HEALTH SERVICES (111700) > Primary Health Care (111717)
Divisions: Current > Research Centres > Centre for Accident Research & Road Safety - Qld (CARRS-Q)
Current > QUT Faculties and Divisions > Faculty of Health
Current > Institutes > Institute of Health and Biomedical Innovation
Current > Schools > School of Psychology & Counselling
Deposited On: 10 Oct 2013 03:26
Last Modified: 29 Oct 2013 04:39

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