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Study Shows Hospitals Rarely Report Medical Errors, Despite Gov't Mandate

June 12, 2012

In order to receive Medicare payments, hospitals in the United States must report all their medical errors. Each hospital error is supposed to be tracked, analyzed, and used to improve patient care. Based on an investigation conducted by the Department of Health and Human Services, hospitals rarely comply with this requirement. In fact, the report issued by the Department shows hospitals only report 1 out every 7 medical errors that occur. According to the inspector general, more than 130,000 Medicare beneficiaries experienced one or more adverse events in hospitals in a single month. As a Chicago medical malpractice lawyer, this report is certainly troubling but hardly surprising.

In order to receive payment under Medicare, hospitals are required by law to "track medical errors and adverse patient events, analyze their causes" in order to improve patient care. Adverse events include medication errors, severe bedsores, hospital acquired infections, delirium from painkiller overdoses, and excess bleeding from improper use of blood thinners. To accomplish the governments reporting mandate, hospitals should have a clear system that allows hospital staff to report these events to hospital management. Without such a system, there is no reason to expect hospital would comply with the government's requirements.

There are many reasons why hospitals rarely report their medical mistakes. One is that individual hospital staff members do not want to admit they made a medical error because of the natural human instinct many have against admitting a mistake. A second reason that hospital staff may not admit many medical mistakes is because they fear being disciplined which could result in losing their job. A third reason many medical staff and management may not admit their medical errors is out of fear it could lead to a medical malpractice lawsuit or otherwise be used against them in such a lawsuit. A fourth reason hospital mistakes are seldom reported is because hospital administrators may not want to lose their Medicare payments.

According to the Department of Health & Human Services, there is another reason, less obvious, reason hospitals rarely report their medical mistakes. The primary reason the government believes hospitals often don't report their medical errors is because they often don't recognize when they make one. In an effort to clear up any "confusion" as what is a reportable mistake, Medicare officials say they will develop a list of "reportable events" that hospital staff and management can use. Medicare officials also say hospital management should give clear and unambiguous instructions to staff on the types of medical mistakes that must be reported.

The Department of Health and Human Services determined hospitals reported only 1 out of 7 adverse events after they authorized independent doctors to review thousands of patient records. Having handled many medical malpractice cases, simply reviewing medical records is not going to reveal the total number of unreported medical mistakes. In many instances, medical mistakes will only be uncovered after taking numerous depositions of all persons who were involved in the care and treatment. Indeed, any experienced medical malpractice lawyer will be able to a story of how they uncovered a medical mistake when, after dozens of depositions were taken, one nurse, resident, or other staff member testified to a major event or fact that was never disclosed in the medical records. In other cases, the medical error will never be truly uncovered no matter how many depositions are taken. For this reason, that fact government's independent medical doctors were able to determine 1 out of 7 adverse events were not reported, based strictly on the medical records, means the number of unreported medical mistakes by hospitals is undoubtedly higher.

Sources Used:
MSNBC, Only 1 In 7 Hospital Errors Reported, Study Finds, January 6, 2012.
New York Times, Report Finds Most Errors At Hospitals Go Unreported, January 6, 2012.

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