Healthcare Analytics, Population Health Management, Healthcare Big Data

Quality & Governance News

21% of Patients See Medical Errors, but Providers Deny Responsibility

Medical errors and adverse patient safety events are common, but healthcare providers tend to avoid addressing the topic openly.

Medical errors and patient safety

Source: Thinkstock

By Jennifer Bresnick

- Just over a fifth of patients have experienced medical errors at some point during their care, yet healthcare providers are reluctant to speak openly about mistakes or take responsibility for improper actions, according to a new survey from NORC at the University of Chicago and the IHI/NPSF Lucian Leape Institute.

Medical errors are extremely prevalent, the poll of more than 2500 healthcare consumers revealed.  In addition to the 21 percent who have personally experienced an error, 31 percent of caregivers reported that their family members or friends had been on the receiving end of a mistake.

Seventy-three percent of those who have experienced errors said the misstep had a lasting impact on their health, financial situation, emotional state, or family relationships, but only 42 percent said that the facility involved apologized and took responsibility for the mistake.

Twenty-four percent of respondents said the organization actively denied responsibility.  In more than 20 percent of cases, patients indicated that a provider tried to alter or hide records of the mistake. 

Aversion to acknowledging errors could stem from the fact that most problems appear to be systemic rather than actions of one individual.  When asked to pick from a list of factors contributing to the error, patients identified an average of seven circumstances that led to the negative event.

READ MORE: Patient Safety Errors are Common with Electronic Health Record Use

Sixty-nine percent of those who have experienced an error said lack of attention to detail was a primary cause.  Half said that overworked, tired, or stressed providers were part of the problem, while 47 percent pointed to insufficient communication between members of the care team.

Perhaps encouragingly for health IT proponents, just 25 percent said that spending too much time with electronic health records created a situation ripe for errors, and just 12 percent blamed outdated or inaccurate data.

Twenty-two percent said the inability for the patient to access their own information could have contributed to the problem, indicating a desire among consumers to be more actively involved in their care.

Healthcare provider responses to medical errors

Source: Institute for Healthcare Improvement / National Patient Safety Foundation

Patient engagement shortfalls, lack of attention to detail, and gaps in adequate patient-provider communication also contributed significantly to negative outcomes, according to consumers. 

READ MORE: Patient Safety Improvements Could Cut Avoidable Deaths by 50%

Fifty-nine percent said their providers simply did not listen to them, while a third said their providers did not discuss goals or treatment options in a way that might have helped avoid an error.

Insufficient leadership and too many providers involved in the care process worried 32 percent of patients.

Patients are more likely to blame their care teams than themselves: just 15 percent of patients said they might not have understood their follow-up care plans well enough, and only 9 percent said their own inability to keep to a follow-up visit schedule resulted in a problem.

Despite patients’ self-expressed ability to pinpoint the causes of a medical error, less than half of consumers actually reported these mistakes, and few contacted administrators, quality officers, or organizational boards.

Of the 45 percent of errors reported by patients, seventy percent were brought to the attention of a doctor, nurse, or other care team member at the facility where the error occurred. 

READ MORE: How Patient Safety Organizations Encourage Data Collection, Quality Care

Twenty-seven percent were listed on a patient satisfaction survey, but only 22 percent of the errors were pointed out directly to a patient safety, risk, or patient relations department.

Just 31 percent of errors were caught by providers and reported to patients rather than the other way around.

Most patients who do report errors are not doing so maliciously, the survey found.  When asked about why they pursued the situation, 76 percent said that they simply did not want the same mistake to happen again. 

Fifty-three percent added that they needed their providers’ help coping with the aftermath of the error, while less than a third admitted to wanting to “punish” the organization or specific person involved in the mistake.  Only fifteen percent said they filed a report specifically to seek out compensation.

While many healthcare organizations fear the legal and financial ramifications of inflicting harm on a patient, consumers are just as worried – if not more so – about retribution from their providers.

Twenty percent of those who did not report an error said it was because there was no anonymous reporting option.  Fourteen percent feared that their doctor would stop seeing them, and 10 percent didn’t want anyone to get in trouble.

Reasons why patients did not report medical errors

Source: Institute for Healthcare Improvement / National Patient Safety Foundation

Most patients simply didn’t think it would do any good (56 percent), thought that honest mistakes didn’t need to be reported (24 percent), or didn’t believe that the error was important enough to pursue (11 percent).

While only three percent said a staff member specifically asked or pressured them not to pursue the mistake, twenty percent said someone on their care team minimized the impact of the error in a way that led them not to report the issue.

The survey results point to a significant need for healthcare providers to promote a culture of safety, accountability, and non-judgmental organizational improvement, both to their own staff and to their patients.

Even if an error was minor, did not result in harm, or occurred due to an honest misunderstanding, organizations cannot address workflow improvements or training gaps without knowing when, how, and why those errors occurred.

Healthcare providers in a position of authority over patients and families experiencing uncertainty about their health should take the initiative to encourage diligence and communication from their patients, especially those with lower health literacy who are more at risk than others of experiencing mistakes.

Developing a commitment to safety and continuous improvement may be able to continue reducing patient safety errors, improve consumer satisfaction, and ensure that all members of the care team can contribute positively to the delivery of high-quality care.

X

Join 25,000 of your peers

Register for free to get access to all our articles, webcasts, white papers and exclusive interviews.

Our privacy policy


no, thanks

Continue to site...