Why Don't Patients Report Medical Errors? - The Huffington Post
I was recently browsing through the nearly 200 stories we've compiled with our Patient Harm Questionnaire, when I was reminded again of a troubling truth. Many of the people who suffer harm while undergoing medical care do not file formal complaints with regulators. The reasons are numerous: They're often traumatized, disabled, unaware they've been a victim of a medical error or don't understand the bureaucracy.
That's a problem for those individual patients and for the rest of us. There are many places to complain: a state licensing agency; a professional licensing board that monitors doctors or nurses; the Joint Commission, which accredits hospitals or a Medicare Quality Improvement Organization. But if there are no complaints, there are no independent investigations, and that means no outside accountability for providers who may have made mistakes, and no public inspection reports that documents the case -- assuming an agency makes reports public, which is not always the case. It's a collective problem because patient safety flaws that remain hidden, if they are not corrected, may be repeated.
We have staggering estimates of the number of people harmed while undergoing medical treatment. A review of medical records by the U.S. Health and Human Services Department's inspector general found that in a single month one in seven Medicare patients was harmed in the hospital, or roughly 134,000 people. "An estimated 1.5 percent of Medicare beneficiaries experienced an event that contributed to their deaths," the IG found, "which projects to 15,000 patients in a single month."
But there's no central system in place to tally and track these events. There's no way to know when and where patients are being harmed or to tell if the problem is worse in one place than another.
It's not like keeping track of patient harm is a new idea. More than a decade ago the Institute of Medicine's landmark "To Err Is Human" report called for a national system to capture cases of serious harm to patients or death. The report said accurate reporting provides accountability and knowledge that leads to learning. That's information that could save lives.
"You really can't improve what you don't measure," said Dr. Julia Hallisy, president of the Empowered Patient Coalition. "How do you know where to focus your improvement efforts if you haven't measured what's happening in the first place?"
Efforts at the state level appear to be falling short, according to federal inspectors. In many states, hospital are required by law to file a report every time a patient suffers unexpected harm -- often called "sentinel" or "adverse" events. But a July report by the HHS inspector general's office found that only 12 percent of harmful events identified by the office even met state requirements for reporting them. Compounding the problem: Hospitals themselves only reported 1 percent of the harmful events.