Most Medical Errors in Hospitals Go Unreported

A new study by the Inspector General of the Department of Health and Human Services finds that more often than not, staff at hospitals fail to report medical errors. In fact, according to the study, staff recognize and report just one out of every 7 medical errors that harm Medicare patients in the hospital.

The study was conducted by Daniel Levinson, Inspector General of the Department Health and Human Services. In his report based on a survey of hospital administrators, he says that in spite of hospitals trying to foster an environment that encourages staff to report medical errors, far too many medical errors are going unreported. Many of these errors resulted in adverse patient events, like bedsores, delirium from over use of painkillers, as well as bleeding from the use of blood thinning medications. In all these cases, the errors contributed to adverse patient events that actually cause fatalities.

According to the Inspector General’s estimates, more than 130,000 Medicaid patients suffered at least one adverse event in a hospital each year. Many of the hospital administrators in the survey also admitted that their hospital staff members were underreporting the number of infections, injuries, and other medical errors that occur in their facility.

Since 1999, when the To Err Is Human report by the Institute of Medicine was released, hospitals have been encouraged to persuade staff members to report medical errors that occur on their watch. However, in spite of this, hospitals are failing to encourage reporting of errors. In the first year of these programs, staff members were reluctant to come forward to report errors, because of the fear that they would be penalized for the errors. However, the study seems to indicate that fear of repercussions after reporting errors is no longer the reason for the failure to report errors.

Now, the failure seems to be the result of a failure to recognize and identify hazards that can lead to errors. Many hospital employees do not understand or recognize what constitutes a serious medical error, and are therefore, are not in a position to understand the error that must be reported. In other cases, the staff member assumes that other people will report the error. In some cases, staff believed the error was so common that it need not be reported, while in others, staff believed that the errors were so rare and isolated, it was very unlikely that the error could recur.

Officials at Medicare seem to finally understand the challenge that they’re faced with here. They are drawing up a list of the potential adverse events that occur in hospitals, in order to train staff members to look out for these errors. Also, the Medicare agency is asking hospitals to invest in giving employees detailed and clear instructions about the kind of adverse events that should be reported.

The Indiana medical malpractice attorneys at Montross Miller Muller Mendelson Kennedy represent victims of medical negligence across Indiana.