Medical errors originating in health care facilities are a significant source of preventable morbidity, mortality, and healthcare costs. Voluntary error report systems that collect information on the causes and contributing factors of medi- cal errors regardless of the resulting harm may be useful for developing effective harm prevention strategies. Some patient safety experts question the utility of data from errors that did not lead to harm to the patient, also called near misses. A near miss (a.k.a. close call) is an unplanned event that did not result in injury to the patient. Only a fortunate break in the chain of events prevented injury. We use data from a large voluntary reporting system of 836,174 medication errors from 1999 to 2005 to provide evidence that the causes and contributing factors of errors that result in harm are similar to the causes and contributing factors of near misses. We develop Bayesian hierarchical models for estimating the log odds of selecting a given cause (or contributing factor) of error given harm has occurred and the log odds of selecting the same cause given that harm did not occur. The posterior distribution of the correlation between these two vectors of log-odds is used as a measure of the evidence supporting the use of data from near misses and their causes and contributing factors to prevent medical errors. In addition, we identify the causes and contributing factors that have the highest or lowest log-odds ratio of harm versus no harm. These causes and contributing factors should also be a focus in the design of prevention strategies. This paper provides important evidence on the utility of data from near misses, which constitute the vast majority of errors in our data.


Health Services Research