Volume 38, Issue 2 (March 1993)
Detection of Fatal Therapeutic Misadventures by an Urban Medico-Legal System
Very few population-based studies have evaluated fatal therapeutic misadventures, in particular the adequacy of their detection. We therefore assessed the adequacy of the reporting and detection of fatal therapeutic misadventures in an urban setting medicolegal system. The coroner's files and the related hospital records were reviewed as to the circumstances of the incidents and the adequacy of notification by the care providers in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, for the period of January 1, 1982 through December 31, 1991. The annual average rate of fatal misadventures was 2.2 per 100 000 hospital admissions or 4.7 per million inhabitants (total 63 cases). The survival time from the occurrence of the misadventure was within 24 h in 60% of the cases. University-related hospitals had double the rate of misadventure fatalities (118.2 per 100 000 beds per year), compared to that in community-based hospitals (53.9 per 100 000 bed per year). In more than half of the cases, the hospitals reported the incidents within an hour from the pronouncement of death, 28.6% within 5 h, and 19% after more than 5 h. In 10 cases (15.9%), the notification by the hospitals was clearly deficient in determining the manner of death. In a few cases, the incident was initially reported by the relatives, by the hospital pathologists, or by the media.
A high likelihood of under-reporting of fatal misadventures to the medico-legal system is substantiated by comparing with the results reported by others. The possible measures to increase the monitoring and reporting, and to reduce the related mortality are further discussed.