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Few hospital errors are ever reported

Some 130,000 Medicare recipients were harmed in just one month due to errors made by hospital staff, according to a recent report.

The report is based off of information collected by Daniel R. Levinson, the inspector general of the Department of Health and Human Services. He found that hospital staff report harmful errors only one out of seven times. Even more shockingly, it appears that hospitals make few changes even when those errors are reported. This kind of behavior could increase the occurrence of hospital injuries if mistakes are not fixed.

Since hospitals are paid by Medicare, they are asked to keep track of errors, look at the causes of errors and try to improve care in the future. However, it appears that seldom happens. Despite hospitals having systems in place to report errors that cause harm to patients, few staff members take advantage of those systems.

The inspector general says the lack of reporting is not because hospital staff is afraid of getting in trouble. Rather, hospital staff is not clear on what constitutes patient harm. Other times, hospital staff assumes someone else is reporting the error or they think the error is so common that it does not need to be reported. They may also fail to report the error because they think that the error is unlikely to happen again.

Medicare officials now say they plan to give hospitals a clear list of the types of errors that need to be reported.

Many of the unreported errors were found by independent doctors who reviewed the cases. Some of the adverse events included medication errors, bedsores and infections, as well as overuse of painkillers and improper use of blood thinners.

Source: The New York Times, "Report Finds Most Errors at Hospitals Go Unreported," Robert Pear, Jan. 6, 2011

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