Standing Up For You

The truth about medical error reporting

The golden rule for doctors is to first do no harm. While they may not always be able to cure a patient, medical personnel should certainly strive to not make them worse. Unfortunately, whether through negligence, distraction, poor processes or lack of communication, errors happen.

The frequency with which medical errors happen is likely much higher than the reporting suggests, and the statistics are already alarming. A variety of factors contribute to inaccurate or incomplete reporting.

Undisclosed errors

Quite often patients are not informed that an error occurred. They discover it later when the resulting problem surfaces. These patients sometimes inform the doctor or hospital about the error after the fact, but because of the perception that nothing will happen as a result, many simply don’t bother.

Inconsistent reporting mandates

The list of serious reportable events in most states only contains the most egregious medical errors. A number of states, including Kentucky, have no mandatory reporting requirement at all. In 1999, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) submitted a report including the suggestion that a national reporting database could help identify and pinpoint where the problems are. It would provide data for a root cause analysis which could hopefully lead to solutions.

In the current medical environment, the majority of medical errors go unreported. It can be challenging to prove cause and effect, or determine the amount of damage for which the error is responsible. Until accurate reporting is available, it will be impossible to establish the true magnitude of the problem.