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This study aimed to examine the performance of the Global Trigger Tool and to investigate characteristics associated with the occurrence of adverse events (AEs).Retrospective medical record review.A tertiary teaching hospital, Korea.We employed two-stage review of a random sample of 630 charts for patients discharged between January and June 2011. Two quality improvement specialists reviewed the presence of AEs using 53 triggers developed by the Institute for Healthcare Improvement. Two physicians reviewed and validated the findings of adverse events. Positive predictive values for individual triggers were calculated. Logistic regression analysis was performed to determine factors associated with AEs.Of 629 patients, 45 (7%) experienced at least one AE during their hospitalization. Among the observed AEs, 61% were preventable. The frequent types of AEs were ‘procedure-related’ and ‘medication-related’. Six triggers had positive predictive values of greater than 50.0%: ‘health care-associated infection’, ‘any procedure complication’, ‘medication: other’, ‘return to surgery’, ‘occurrence of any operative complication’ and ‘intubation/reintubation’. Significant factors associated with the occurrence of AEs were length of stay (OR 1.13; 95% CI 1.07 to 1.20) and the number of triggers (OR 1.49; 95% CI 1.11 to 1.98).The Global Trigger Tool was useful for the detection of adverse events in a Korean hospital setting. Triggers with high positive predictive values should have priority for incorporation into routine screening systems. Furthermore, patients who stay longer in the hospital need to be closely monitored using triggers to improve patient safety.