Study indicates hospital errors are vastly underreported

A newly released study indicates that as many as 90 percent of hospital errors may go unreported using the current method of tracking medical mistakes. This systemic under-reporting of hospital errors may have a number of detrimental effects on the quality of health care. Not only does it make it more difficult to evaluate the efficacy practices and procedures on a broad level, but it may also make it difficult or impossible to identify the cause of an individual patient’s medical trouble.

The study reviewed records from 795 patients and indicated that medical errors and other adverse events occur in one in three hospital visits. According to researchers this is more than ten times the frequency which had been indicated in some previous studies.

The reason for the vast disparity in the number of medical errors discovered by the new study is due largely to the method used for identifying the hospital and medical staff’s mistakes.

Of the 795 patient records reviewed, only four errors were voluntarily reported by medical personnel. The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality indicators, which are developed by that federal agency, detected 35 errors.

The newer and more comprehensive Global Trigger Tool detected 354 errors. The researchers note that the actual number of errors may be even higher as the Global Trigger Tool relied solely on patient records, and any errors that are not reflected in those records would have been unidentifiable.

Source: Health Affairs “New Health Affairs: Hospital Errors Ten Times More Common Than Thought?” April, 2011