Medical Errors Not Reported to Patients

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Some estimates place preventable medical errors as the third-leading killer in America, behind only heart disease and cancer.

Researchers at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in 2016 published their study (“Medical Error—the Third Leading Cause of Death in the US”) that said medical errors are responsible for 250,000 patient deaths every year in the United States.

That may be a conservative estimate, as a 2013 study (“A New, Evidence-Based Estimate of Patient Harms Associated with Hospital Care”) concluded that preventable medical mistakes kill as many as 440,000 Americans annually.

But how often are patients or their families told they have been a victim of a serious mistake during medical treatment?  For Missouri hospital patients, one clue could be held in the state just to the north.

In January the Heartland Health Research Institute, an Iowa-based nonprofit organization focused on improving public health, published an article on medical errors suffered by patients in the Hawkeye State (“Medical Errors in Iowa, Prevalence and Patients’ Perspectives”).

The research included phone interviews with about 1,000 Iowans, focusing on their experience during hospital stays. Iowa has about half the population as Missouri.

One out Five Reported Suffering a Medical Error

When asked if they or someone close had ever been a victim of a medical error in the last five years, nearly one out of five (19%) said they had. The most common, serious medical errors the respondents experienced included:

·         Mistake during test, surgery or treatment

·         Medical misdiagnosis

·         Wrong prescription from doctor – wrong medicine or wrong dose

·         Hospital-acquired infection

The overwhelming majority of those suffering a mistake during medical treatment – nearly 60% - said the medical error caused serious health consequences. And about one-third said they suffered serious economic harm as well.

As this study sought to capture medical patients’ experiences and perspectives, researchers asked them what they believe were the reasons for the medical error.  Top reasons cited were:

·         Medical staff overworked

·         Staff unaware of care received elsewhere

·         Communication problems - medical professionals not working as a team

·         Poorly trained or careless medical staff

What may be truly alarming from this survey is often medical professionals making mistakes did not tell their patients about them.

Doctors Not Disclosing Their Medical Mistakes

Only about six out of every 10 patients said they were told by healthcare providers that an error had happened.  Yet, in an almost mirror reversal, 61.5% of the medical patients reported the error to their caregivers.  When asked why they did so, nearly 90% said they did so to try and prevent similar medical errors from happening in the future.

About that same percentage (88.5%) said they strongly believe that doctors and nurses should tell their patients when a medical error is made.

This report is just the latest evidence that medical errors go largely unreported to patients.

A 2008 study (“Reporting Medical Errors to Improve Patient Safety: A Survey of Physicians in Teaching Hospitals”) found that only 4% of physicians reported serious medical errors – those that resulted in the death or the disability of the patient.

In 2012, the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of the Inspector General reported that six out of every seven hospital treatment errors or adverse events go unreported. Reasons given for this included

  • Fear of retribution by hospital administrators
  • Disbelief by the caregiver
  • Hospital productivity demands

Despite the reasons why, it’s clear that physicians and hospital administrators are likely to hide medical errors from patients or their surviving family members.

If you or someone you love was a victim of a serious mistake during medical care, turn to an experienced medical malpractice lawyer for the answers and the justice you deserve.

The choice of a lawyer is an important decision that should not be based solely on advertisements.

Authored by Gray Ritter Graham, posted in Articles March 2, 2020

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