Have you ever heard of someone who has gone through a common, relatively simple surgery, only to emerge with a horrible or painful complication or infection due to medical error
? Or even died due to a "mistake"? Wait, that kind of sounds like a scene from a new Hollywood thriller!
Unfortunately, it’s not . . . and it may happen more than you think. What’s worse, it may happen without anyone in “authority” ever knowing about it.Mum is the Word
Alarmingly, there is a big chance your doctor's mistake might not get reported. According to a recent study by the Department of Health and Human Services, hospital employees recognize and report only one out of seven errors and accidents that adversely affect Medicare patients. Even more shocking is the fact that even after hospitals investigated injuries and infections that could have been prevented, they rarely changed their practices to prevent any future reoccurrences.
The report was made by Daniel R. Levinson, who is the inspector general of the Department of Health and Human Services. Mr. Levinson believes that these hospitals are not reporting accidents or errors because in order to get paid under Medicare, hospitals are required to track medical errors and adverse patient events, analyze their cause, and improve care. But that might prove to be too costly for some health institutions.
The inspector general also linked the lack of errors reported directly to the severity of the adverse event. For example, if a complication or mistake caused a patient to die, it is much less likely to be reported than a mistake that led to a small infection that was easily treated.
Other events that might not be reported are medication errors
, excessive bleeding due to improper use of blood thinning drugs, delirious patients who overused painkillers, severe bedsores, and severe infections that could lead to serious complications. These unreported errors were only caught after a private, independent doctor reviewed patients' records and discovered the inconsistencies. Mr. Levinson estimates that over 130,000 Medicare patients experience one or more adverse medical events in hospitals, in a single month.
In the hospital's defense, the inspector general noted that today's lack of errors being reported is not due to a hospital's fear of admitting that they made a mistake, as was once true until the late 1990's. Instead, it is believed that many hospital employees today don't even recognize what constitutes “patient harm,” or don't realize that the patients have even been harmed.
Additionally, in some cases the employees either assumed that someone else would report the event, assumed it was a side effect so common that it did not need to be reported, or that the event was a freak accident that was so likely to reoccur, it shouldn't be reported. Out of a study that encompassed 293 cases of harmed patients, 40 of them were reported to hospital managers and 28 were investigated; but only five led to any changes in policies or practices.
So the next time you visit a hospital, just be aware that you might not know the whole truth of what has gone on there! And if you know of errors at your hospital of choice, you may want to think about switching