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Medicare Study Shows Most Medical Errors In Hospitals Go Unreported

January 9, 2012

A new study released today by the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) found that hospital employees are only reporting fourteen percent of all medical errors and usually don’t change their practices to prevent future harm to patients. What’s more, although the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) will work to make hospitals track errors better internally,
information will be kept from the public.

The study was based on an independent review of patient records. Federal regulations require hospitals to track all medical errors and adverse events that harm patients and to implement preventive measures to protect patients. Only five of the 293 reported cases of medical errors reviewed by federal investigators led to changes in policies or practices by hospitals to prevent harm to patients.

“One in four hospital patients are harmed by medical errors and infections, which translates to about 9 million people each year,” said Lisa McGiffert, Director of Consumers Union’s Safe Patient Project. “Today’s report confirms what many other studies have already documented. Too many hospitals are doing a 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 higher priority.” The OIG report recommends that CMS provide hospitals with a standard list of medical errors that should be tracked and reported to the agency. But Consumers Union noted that public reporting of medical errors is critical to driving improvement in patient safety.

"Hospitals should be pushed to do a better job at tracking medical harm, but public reporting is what drives change and the public should have access to this critical information,” said McGiffert. “The solutions arrived at in this report take us down the tired and worn out path of secret reporting of medical harm." A previous 2010 study by the OIG estimated that an estimated 15,000 Medicare patients experienced medical errors in the hospital that contributed to their deaths each month. That amounts to about 180,000 patients annually. The OIG calculated that Medicare patients harmed during that month required an additional $324 million in hospital care. The study estimated the annual cost for these events in hospital care alone at $4.4 billion.

What can you do to protect yourself and your loved ones? Check out Martine Ehrenclou’s series on preventing hospital errors in our Medical Matters Learning Center.