Medicare Study Shows Most Medical Errors Go Unreported

A new study released the first week in January 2012 by the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) found that hospital employees are only reporting 14 percent of all medical errors and usually don't change their practices to prevent future harm to patients. 

The study was based on an independent review of patient records.  Federal regulations require hospitals to track all medical errors and adverse events that harm patients and to implement preventive measures to protect patients. Only five of the 293 reported cases of medical errors reviewed by federal investigators led to changes in policies or practices by hospitals to prevent harm to patients.

"One in four hospital patients are harmed by medical errors and infections, which translates to about 9 million people each year," says Lisa McGiffert, director of Consumers Union's Safe Patient Project.  "Today's report confirms what many other studies have already documented.  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 OIG report recommends that the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) provide hospitals with a standard list of medical errors that should be tracked and reported to the agency.  But Consumers Union noted that public reporting of medical errors is critical to driving improvement in patient safety.

"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 McGiffert.  "The solutions arrived at in this report take us down the tired and worn out path of secret reporting of medical harm."

A previous 2010 study by the OIG estimated that an estimated 15,000 Medicare patients experienced medical errors in the hospital that contributed to their deaths each month. That amounts to about 180,000 patients annually.  The OIG calculated that Medicare patients harmed during that month required an additional $324 million in hospital care. The study estimated the annual cost for these events in hospital care alone at $4.4 billion

  

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