Underreported Medical Errors and Med Mal Ins

Operation in ProgressA recent study reported on in the New York Times tracked errors, accidents and other harmful events related to Medicare patients during hospitalization. The Department of Health and Human Services study found that only one in every seven adverse events is reported. Worse yet, even after hospitals investigate known errors, little is usually done to prevent such an error from happening again. This is interesting, considering to be paid under Medicare, hospitals have to “track medical errors and adverse patient events, analyze their causes” and work to improve patient care. Huh.

The report found that, in one month, over 130,000 Medicare patients suffered one or more adverse events in hospitals. That’s a lot of errors. But why are so many errors not being reported? Most likely, we’d all guess that employees are afraid of reporting errors and admitting mistakes. Physicians may fear a med mal lawsuit and needing their med mal coverage. However, the study’s author said the more frequent reason was that employees often did not understand what constituted an adverse event or patient harm or even realize that a patient was harmed. Employees also often assumed that someone else would report the event, or that it was so common it didn’t have to be reported, or so rare that it didn’t need to be reported. To help clear up any confusion, Medicare said they would draft a list of “reportable events” for hospitals. As for why changes were rarely implemented in light of known errors? Hospital administrators said that often the errors didn’t indicate any sort of systemic problem.

I can’t help but wonder what percentage of the reported errors vs unreported errors end up resulting in med mal cases? How often do physicians need to use their med mal insurance as it relates to their errors? We know already that only a small percentage of med mal cases ever go to trial, but I would love to know what percentage of errors go to trial? But, that’s another study…

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