Learning From Morbidity and Mortality Conferences: Focus and Sustainability of Lessons for Patient Care

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Abstract

Objective

It remains unclear to what extent the morbidity and mortality conference (M&M) meets the objective of improving quality and safety of patient care. It has been suggested that M&M may be too focused on individual performance, hampering system-level improvement. The aim of this study was to assess focus and sustainability of lessons for patient care that were derived from M&M.

Methods

This is an observational study of routinely collected data on evaluated complications and identified lessons at surgical M&M for 8 years, assessing type and recurrence of lessons and cases from which these were drawn. Semistructured interviews with clinicians were qualitatively analyzed to explore factors contributing to lesson focus and recurrence.

Results

Three hundred eighteen lessons were drawn from 10,883 evaluated complications, primarily for those that were more severe, related to surgical or other treatment, and occurring in nonemergent, lower risk cases (all P < 0.001). Most lessons targeted intraoperative (43%) rather than preoperative or postoperative care as well as specifically technical (87%) and individual-level issues (74%). There were 43 recurring lessons (14%), mostly about postoperative care (47%) and medication management (50%). Interviewed clinicians attributed the intraoperative, technical focus primarily to greater appeal and control but identified an array of factors contributing to lesson recurrence, such as typical staff turnover in teaching hospitals.

Conclusions

This study provided empirical evidence that learning at M&M has a tendency to focus on intraoperative, technical performance, with challenges to sustain lessons for more system-level issues. Morbidity and mortality conference formats need to anticipate these tendencies to ensure a wide focus for learning with lasting and wide impact.

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