Benefits of Hospital-Wide Mortality Reviews


Death is a subject everyone cares about—but we could talk about it more, especially in hospitals, where a lot of people die. “Out of everybody that dies in the entire country, in Canada at least, two-thirds are dying in hospital,” says Daniel Kobewka, MD, of The Ottawa Hospital and lead author of “Quality Gaps Identified through Mortality Review.”

Most divisions within a hospital will have a morbidity or mortality round where they review deaths that occurred in that department, but doing that on an institution-wide level is unusual and important. “It gives a totally different viewpoint,” he says. “When it’s a couple highly selected patients whose cases you examine, you really don’t have an idea at the end if the problems you identified are systemwide issues in your institution.”

The major issue the study identified was an inadequate discussion of goals of care. “This was often a patient who was dying, and in retrospect, it was clear that they were at high risk for death, but there had been no discussion with the patient about prognosis or about symptom management,” Dr. Kobewka says. “It seemed that care was directed at prolonging life. When we looked back at the case, that wasn’t realistic. That accounted for 25% of the quality issues that we identified: The discussion of prognosis and goals of care was inadequate or even absent all together. I think every hospital needs to think about those discussions and how and where and when we have them.”

Another revelation from the study: Errors in care are common but also underdiscussed. “When a physician is aware that maybe there was an error in care, it’s easy for there to be guilt and secrecy,” Dr. Kobewka says. “This is just a reminder that it’s common, and we need an open discussion about it. We need high-level, institution-wide systems to help us with this, but even at the individual provider level, this discussion needs to happen. Any quality improvement process needs engagement of frontline staff.”


  1. Kobewka DM, van Walraven C, Turnbull J, Worthington J, Calder L, Forster A. Quality gaps identified through mortality review [published online ahead of print February 8, 2016]. BMJ Qual Saf. doi:10.1136/bmjqs-2015-004735.

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