patients in hospital injuries almost always go unreported

Medical malpractice attorneys in Pennsylvania and elsewhere are very aware of the shocking number of injuries, infections and other types of harm patients suffer in hospitals. We also know that the majority of these events may go unreported. That conclusion is supported by a study recently published in the journal Health Affairs. The researchers found that hospitals failed to record 90 percent of the “adverse events” that happened to patients while in the hospital. Adverse events included medication errors, pressure sores, bloodstream infections, etc.

The study examined adverse events at three American teaching hospitals. The facilities’ self-reporting systems found four adverse events, while a system designed by the federal Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality found thirty-five events during the same period. The authors agreed not to reveal the names of the hospitals that participated.

Efforts to identify adverse events grew out of a previous report in 1999 which found that medical errors were causing as many as 98,000 deaths and more than 1 million injuries each year.

The authors of the new study examined 795 patient records using the Institute for Healthcare Improvement’s Global Trigger Tool. The tool uses analysis of patient charts by doctors, pharmacists and nurses. For the purposes of the study, the researchers did not distinguish between preventable and unpreventable adverse events.

The impact of the study might be lessened in some observers’ eyes by the fact that it is unknown how many of the adverse events were preventable. If the injuries were not preventable, then some would say that there is nothing for hospitals to learn from cataloging their occurrence.

But the authors of the study disagreed with that conclusion. They pointed out that an incomplete picture of how often patients are harmed undermines efforts to improve the quality of medical services. If hospitals fail to record or even detect harm to patients, then they are going to misjudge their actual performance. If they grade themselves at an “A,” when the true performance is a “D,” then patient safety improvement efforts are going to be inadequate and misdirected.

Pennsylvania hospital negligence attorneys can see the danger in underdetection and underreporting of patient injuries, even if they were not preventable: institutions that have an inflated belief in their own effectiveness are less likely to continually examine methods for improving patient safety, and they are less likely to give credence to, and take responsibility for, reports of patients being injured by negligence. Hospitals that convince themselves that they are doing a better job than they really are will eventually become dangerous places for patients to seek proper care.

Source: Bloomberg “Hospital Errors Occur 10 Times More Than Reported, Study Finds” 4/7/2011

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