Hospital employees report only 14 percent of medical errors and usually don’t change their practices to prevent future mistakes, according to a new study from the Office of the Inspector General and the Department of Health and Human Services. And while proposed new DHHS rules would encourage more reporting, they still don’t require that the information be made public.
"Hospitals should be pushed to do a better job at tracking medical harm, but public reporting is what drives change and the public should have access to this critical information,” says Lisa McGiffert, director of Consumers Union’s Safe Patient Project. “The solutions arrived at in this report take us down the tired and worn out path of secret reporting of medical harm."
In the current study, researchers looked at the medical records of 785 randomly selected Medicare beneficiaries nationwide and identified 293 medical errors that led to patient harm. They found that hospital staff reported only 41 (14 percent) of those errors, and only two of the 18 most serious events, which had led to permanent disability or death. And only five of the cases led to changes in polices or practices by hospitals to prevent future harm to patients.
Other research suggests that one in four hospital patients are harmed by medical errors, which translates to about 9 million people a year. And an estimated 15,000 Medicare patients experience medical errors in the hospital that contribute to their deaths each month. That amounts to about 180,000 patients annually.
McGiffert, at our Safe Patient Project, says:
Too many hospitals are doing a poor job of tracking preventable infections and medical errors and making the changes necessary to keep patients safe. It’s time that hospitals make patient safety a higher priority.
The new report recommends that the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services provide hospitals with a standard list of medical errors that should be tracked and reported to the agency, but does not require that the data be made public. McGiffert argues that undermines effort to improve hospital safety.
See our advice on avoiding deadly hospital infections and staying safe in the hospital, as well as our Ratings of more than 3,000 hospitals nationwide.
Hospital Incident Reporting Systems Do Not Capture Most Patient Harm [Office of Inspector General]