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A New Way to Reduce the Number of Medical Mistakes?

March 5, 2013

Unfortunately, medical errors are a common occurrence in the healthcare industry, often with devastating results. A medical error is considered medical malpractice when the error results in harm or death to the patient. The Institute of Medicine estimates up to 98,000 deaths occur annually due to medical errors. Other research attributes in excess of 1 million unnecessary injuries every year to medical errors. And yet a recent study in the journal Critical Care Medicine reports that patients and their families are informed about medical errors only 2% of the time. This is not surprising since most victims of malpractice never file a medical malpractice lawsuit, let alone recover compensation.

The study found that the majority of medical errors occurred in intensive-care units--the most common mistakes included forgetting to give patients their medication or incorrect calculation of dosages. While research showed that only 2%-4% of the errors led to a patient being harmed, at least two-thirds of the time hospital staff was not even informed about mistakes they had made.

Now the federal government is proposing a consumer reporting system for patient safety, allowing patients and their families to report medical errors online and through phone interviews. Concern about the lack of the consumer's ability to report perceived errors in treatment led the federal Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality to develop the reporting system. The government is seeking information about medication errors, surgical errors, adverse reactions to drugs, anesthesia errors, and unsanitary conditions--it will be up the individual consumer to report any problems and all information will be confidential. The agency hopes that patient reports will be taken into account along with the healthcare providers' reports to give a more complete picture of what kind of medical errors are being made, and how often.

Studies show that instituting a blame-free system of reporting medical mistakes leads to a significant increase in the number of reported errors. While there is no way to completely eliminate human error, perhaps a reporting system that maintains anonymity combined with patient-provided insight will help hospitals address the most troubling issues will lead to a safer medical environment. With medication errors, alone, contributing as much as $2.8 million in additional costs in a single hospital, it is in everyone's best interest to reduce the occurrence of medical mistakes.

Sources:, How Common Are Medical Mistakes?, Viewed 2-28-13

Medscape, Patients Rarely Told About Medical Errors

The New York Times, "New System for Patients to Report Medical Mistakes", 9-23-12

Reuters, Blame-free System Increases Medical Error Reports, 11-21-11

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