JCAHO policy regarding definitions of sentinel events is very lax and is designed to permit participating facilities to develop their own standards for the adverse events that they monitor as sentinel events. In addition, JCAHO maintains a list of Reviewable Sentinel Events that are subject to review by the Joint Commission under the Sentinel Event Policy. Hence, at a minimum, participating facilities must report these ‘reviewable sentinel events.’
JCAHO defines a sentinel event as:
"an unexpected occurrence involving death or serious physical or psychological injury, or the risk thereof. Serious injury specifically includes loss of limb or function. The phrase, "or the risk thereof" includes any process variation for which a recurrence would carry a significant chance of a serious adverse outcome.
Such events are called "sentinel" because they signal the need for immediate investigation and response."
JCAHO encourages a organization-specific definition list of sentinel events. JCAHO's policy standard for definitions of sentinel events is reproduced below from JCAHO's webpage.