Medical Errors Typically Go Unreported
In Touch Education Services

    A January 6, 2012 report by the Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services says that hospital employees only report 14% of the adverse events, including medical errors, that cause harm to patients. They also don’t make procedural changes that could improve patient safety.
By federal law, hospitals must track all medical errors and adverse events that hurt patients. They are also required to take preventive steps to protect patients.
A 2010 study by the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) said close to 180,000 Medicare patients a year experience medical errors in the hospital that contribute to their death. It also estimated that the cost of harm to Medicare patients each year is close to $4.4 billion.
In this study, the OIG studied 189 hospitals, each with an adverse incident-reporting system. Of those, 34 had reported events. “The administrators acknowledged that incident reporting systems provide incomplete information about how often events occur, but they continue to rely on the systems primarily because they value staff accounts of events,” the report said.
The report also noted that nurses most often report adverse events, and that hospital staff did not report 86 percent of events to incident reporting systems, “partly because of staff misperceptions about what constitutes patient harm.” Of those not reported, 62 percent were not seen by staff as being reportable and 25 percent were “commonly reported,” but not in the incident that was reviewed.
In a story on, senior managing health editor Dr. Manny Alvarez said, “Medical mistakes are one of the biggest problems we have in health care today. We’re beginning to see that with more monitoring, we are identifying more problems. The issue however, is that you have to learn from mistakes — and there are still many doctors and hospitals that do not do that.”
In a written statement, Lisa McGiffert, director of Consumers Union’s Safe Patient Project said, “One in four hospital patients is harmed by medical errors and infections, which translates to about 9 million people each year. Today’s report confirms what many other studies have already documented. Hospitals are doing a very 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 priority.”
McGiffert went on to say that simply reporting errors to officials is not enough. “Public reporting is what drives change and the public should have access to this critical information.”