Sentinel event reports up slightly from 2020, Joint Commission finds

U.S. hospitals reported a slightly uptick in sentinel events in the first six months of 2021, compared to the same period last year, according to data the Joint Commission released Sept. 29.

Despite clinical and operational challenges brought on by the pandemic, the current figure is still comparable to the number of events reported in previous years, the accrediting body said.

The organization defines a sentinel event as a patient safety event that results in death, permanent harm, severe temporary harm or intervention required to sustain life. 

Four findings:

1. The Joint Commission received 569 reports of sentinel events in the first six months of the year, compared to 437 for the first six months of 2020.

2. This year, 91 percent of events were voluntarily reported to the accrediting body. Patients, family members and hospital employees reported the remainder.

3. Of 16,695 incidents reported to the Joint Commission since 1995:

  • 47 percent led to a patient's death
  • 24 percent led to unexpected additional care
  • 11 percent caused severe temporary harm.
  • 6 percent resulted in permanent loss of function
  • 2 percent led to permanent harm
  • 2 percent led to a psychological impact

4. Fewer than 2 percent of all sentinel events are reported to the Joint Commission, the organization estimates, meaning conclusions about the events' frequency and long-term trends should not be drawn from the dataset. 

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