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Federal study finds that many hospital errors are not reported

For every seven errors that occur in hospitals affecting Medicare patients, employees recognize and report only one, according to federal investigators in a new study. And, the report says, even when preventable events such as infections and injuries are investigated, steps are not taken that would prevent them from recurring in the future.

In order to be paid by Medicare, hospitals are obligated to track mistakes, analyze them and ensure that they won't happen again. But the federal investigators who conducted the study say that isn't necessarily being done. This leaves the door open for potential medical malpractice lawsuits.

Part of the problem seems to be that hospital employees don't always recognize an event that warrants being reported. Sometimes they don't realize patients are actually harmed, and sometimes they assumed someone else would report the incident. Occasionally, employees would assume that the event was an isolated incident and would be unlikely to recur.

In order to clear up confusion and standardize what would be considered a reportable event, Medicare says it will create a list of such events for employees to refer to. Officials also said that they will encourage hospitals to give their employees more detailed instructions about how to report these errors.

Medical malpractice occurs more frequently than many people in South Carolina may realize, as demonstrated by this study. People who suspect that errors have been made with their care, or the care of a loved one, may wish to consult with an attorney to review their options.

Source: The New York Times, "Report Finds Most Errors at Hospitals Go Unreported," Robert Pear, Jan. 6, 2012

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