Medicare Study Reveals Rampant Underreporting of Medical Errors


new york city medical malpractice law firm, new your city medical malpractice law firm, new york city medical malpractice attorneyOur New York City medical malpractice law firm earnestly believes that most doctors and medical facilities wish to bring quality health care to their patients.  Young people aspire to the medical profession because it is a respected field of public service, a career in which they can help people and improve lives.  This makes it particularly disturbing when medical institutions fail to take steps that would ensure they provide top-quality care.  Ignoring or underreporting medical errors hurts the medical field and leads to even greater risk of patient injury or even death.

Last week a troubling study from the Department of Health and Human Services uncovered that hospitals recognize and report a mere one in seven medical mistakes or care-related accidents involving hospitalized Medicare recipients.  Perhaps more disconcertingly, The New York Times noted that the study found that even reported errors rarely result in procedural changes.  This means that certain mistakes are often repeated over and over again because hospitals fail to learn lesson from the tragedies.   These mistakes can be wide-ranging and include medication errors, hospital-acquired infections, bedsores, misuse of blood thinning products, and many things in between.

Medicare rules include a specific requirement that hospitals track and analyze medical mistakes and most hospitals do have systems in place for reporting serious medical errors to appropriate institutional authorities.  Regrettably, reporting errors have persisted despite these mechanisms and the issues in the report were uncovered after independent practitioners reviewed patient records.  For our New York City med mal lawyers this is further proof that federal bodies simply cannot be relied on for accountability—individual victims often need to demand improvements on their own.

Estimates from the study suggest that more than 130,000 Medicare beneficiaries are impacted by one or more hospital-based medical mistakes in a single month.  The study investigators conducted a more in-depth review of 293 medical errors that resulted in patient harm.  Only forty of the cases in the sample were reported to hospital managers with twenty-eight leading to investigation by the hospitals and only five resulting in policy or procedure changes.

The problem of underreporting is not new, but there may be a shift in the cause.  In 1999, a major National Academy of Sciences report found that employees often failed to report errors out of fear.  Reviewing the current study, the inspector general for the Department of Health and Human Services suggested the problem is now rooted in the failure to recognize errors when they occur or the assumption that someone else would be reporting the mistake. Medicare officials expressed an intention to counter this problem by creating detailed lists of reportable errors and clearer instructions on reporting in general.

The recent attempts at healthcare reform have included calls for a crackdown on medical errors but, as the Times report on the study notes, this has not translated into significant changes in practice.   This is upsetting. 

Medical errors have serious consequences.  A skilled New York medical malpractice attorney can help patients recover after such incidents, and we are proud to serve the community in this manner.

 However, no lawsuit can ever truly heal an injury or bring back a victim whose life is lost due to a medical error.  Preventing medical mistakes is crucial, and one of the best ways to prevent future errors is by learning from the past.  Reporting errors serves the public by holding facilities accountable and, when reporting is followed by action, examining past mistakes can help limit future harm.  We urge medical facilities to develop, maintain, and fully utilize strong procedures for reporting mistakes and to use every error as a lesson.  Successfully learning from mistakes will allow practitioners and facilities to return to the noble goal of public service and fulfilling the call to “First, do no harm.”


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