Diagramming patients' views of root causes of adverse drug events in ambulatory care: An online tool for planning education and research

Mary Brown, Rowan Frost, Yu Ko, Raymond Woosley

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

29 Citations (Scopus)


Objective: Diagram patients' views of the causes of adverse drug events (ADEs) in ambulatory care, examine characteristics of causes reported by patients, and identify those that have been studied in the medical and social science literatures. Methods: Twenty-two primary care patients were interviewed using a root cause analysis approach. Diagrams derived from interviews were consolidated and displayed online as a composite interactive causal diagram. Patient-reported causes were compared to evidence in the social science and medical literatures. Results: Patients ascribed 164 causes to ADEs occurring through eight major pathways, including medication nonadherence, prescriber-patient miscommunication, patient medication error, failure to read medication label/insert, polypharmacy, patient characteristics, pharmacist-patient miscommunication, and self medication. Most frequently reported causes were intrapsychic and interpersonal in nature. Most patient-reported causes have been studied, however, several practical and motivational antecedents lack research. Conclusion: Conducting root cause analysis with patients reveals multiple logically linked aspects of medication safety in community settings that merit further research and consideration in patient and prescriber education. Practice implications: This causal diagram provides a broadly accessible planning tool for reducing ambulatory ADEs by showing a comprehensive picture of potential causes, identifying causal factors supported by evidence, and disclosing likely consequences of change efforts. Also, patient-centered medication safety strategies should address psychological and practical barriers patients face in their everyday lives.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)302-315
Number of pages14
JournalPatient Education and Counseling
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2006
Externally publishedYes


  • Adverse drug event
  • Ambulatory care
  • Drug interactions (MeSH heading)
  • Medication safety
  • Physician-patient communication
  • Root cause analysis

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Medicine


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