Self-Reporting of Medical Errors Leads to False Belief in Improvement


A recent study published by Health Affairs suggests that rather than improving patient safety, health care facilities are underreporting medical errors, skewing statistics that seem to indicate hospitals are becoming a safer place for patients. By misattributing adverse events to a patient’s underlying condition, rather than to a mistake by health care professionals, the study reported that almost 90 percent of what should be noted as adverse events go unreported.

Researchers compared patient records from three major hospitals with “well-established operational patient safety programs.” Despite those target hospitals having an increased focus on patient safety, the study shows that there is still much to be done.

Using a new method for error detection, named the Global Trigger Tool, researchers concluded that adverse events – “unintended physical injury resulting from, or contributed to, by medical care,” as defined by the study – occurred in 1 in 3 patients.

Cross-referencing study results with other reporting tools, researchers found between four and 35 errors in the 795 patient records sample, whereas the Global Trigger Tool alerted researchers to 345 errors. Evaluating the same records with Tool reveals that adverse events occur 10 times more than previously thought.

The problem with such a vast difference in outcomes of the different error-tracking methods is that the reporting systems currently in use create a false sense of improved patient safety at the target hospitals. While hospitals may be championing the progress made in patient safety and the reduction of medical errors related to various safety initiatives, the study reveals that hospitals still remain a dangerous place for every third person who walks through patient admissions.

“Our study suggests that despite sizable investments and aggressive promotional efforts by local hospitals, these reporting systems fail to detect most adverse events,” researchers reported.

There was no indication that the number of reported adverse events was intentionally misreported, but rather that current criteria for identifying adverse events are ineffective to accurately track actual medical mistakes.

Sources: Hospital Errors May Occur In A Third Of AdmissionsMedical errors in hospitals go undetected, study suggests

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