Toward a cognitive taxonomy of medical errors.

Publication Date



Proc AMIA Symp. 2002; 934–938.


One critical step in addressing and resolving the problems associated with human errors is the development of a cognitive taxonomy of such errors. In the case of errors, such a taxonomy may be developed (1) to categorize all types of errors along cognitive dimensions, (2) to associate each type of error with a specific underlying cognitive mechanism, (3) to explain why, and even predict when and where, a specific error will occur, and (4) to generate intervention strategies for each type of error. Based on Reason's (1992) definition of human errors and Norman's (1986) cognitive theory of human action, we have developed a preliminary action-based cognitive taxonomy of errors that largely satisfies these four criteria in the domain of medicine. We discuss initial steps for applying this taxonomy to develop an online medical error reporting system that not only categorizes errors but also identifies problems and generates solutions.


Cognition, Humans, Medical Errors


PMCID: PMC2244173