study finds reluctance among medical professionals to report preventable medical errors

Over the last two decades, many healthcare systems here in Pennsylvania and across the United States have slowly taken steps to eliminate dangerous practices and flawed procedures within the halls of their facilities. For instance, many have introduced mechanisms allowing medical professionals to report incidences of preventable medical mistakes such as operating on the wrong body part or patient, prescription errors or even leaving surgical instruments in the body after an operation.

While a system allowing the reporting of preventable errors is certainly a worthy endeavor that can help improve safety, a recent report shows that many medical professionals — physicians, nurses, medical assistants, etc. — are choosing not to utilize it out of fear.

“[A]s attention to creating a culture of safety in healthcare organizations has increased, so have concomitant reports of retaliation and intimidation targeting staff who voice concern about safety and quality deficiencies,” reads the report by National Association for Healthcare Quality.

The researchers theorize that much of this phenomenon can probably be traced to the perpetuation of the belief among many hospitals and healthcare systems that medical professionals — physicians in particular — are seldom wrong and must be kept happy at all costs. Consequently, those who are lower on the proverbial totem pole may be reluctant to report a preventable medial error out of the aforementioned fear of reprisals from both administration officials and their superiors.

Alternatively, the researchers theorize that hospitals and healthcare systems are so terrified by the possibility of being held accountable in a court of law that they cultivate a culture in which the reporting of any potentially discoverable information is discouraged.

“Once that tone is set it doesn’t take much for the workforce to recognize that reporting can be harmful for the institution. So they won’t report,” said Dr. Peter Angood, CEO of the American College of Physicians Executives, which helped author the report.

The report by the National Association for Healthcare Quality goes on to express that the system will only change if these hospitals and healthcare systems start making an effort to refocus and reinforce the belief that the purpose of the reporting is to raise awareness and improve safety.

One can only hope that this happens. It’s truly mindboggling to think that egregious and preventable medical errors would go unreported. Frankly, patients and their families deserve better.

If you or a family member has been victimized by hospital negligence, consider speaking with a legal professional to learn more about securing the justice you deserve.

Source: HealthLeaders Media, “Preventable error reporting hindered by fear of reprisal,” John Commins, Oct. 22, 2012

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