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Government Report Finds 86% of Medical Errors Aren’t Reported

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According to a recent report from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, a stunning 86% of medical errors aren't reported in databases of the incident reporting system. This system was designed to manage and improve the quality of care that patients receive, but the woeful underreporting of errors is rendering the system useless. Additionally, the report also indicated that 62% of adverse and "temporary harm" events were not entered into the system because medical staff deemed it unnecessary.

Examples of unreported events include infections from a hospital stay, wrong or overuse of medications, bedsores, excessive bleeding and death. Reporting these incidents to the system would help to prevent future problems. However, the report also concluded that most hospital staff did not report errors because they were unaware of what constitutes a medical error or adverse event. The U.S. Department of Health recommended that the Office of the Inspector General, along with other federal agencies, work more closely with hospitals and staff to reduce confusion about what constitutes an adverse medical event or error and develop procedures for staff to follow when such an event occurs.

In an effort to improve patient care, 2,900 hospitals across the nation are joining the "partnership for patients"–or a commitment to save 60,000 patient lives over the next three years. Additionally, 27 states are requiring hospitals to publicly report the number of hospital acquired infections patients develop. The Obama Administration was also alarmed by the findings of the HHS report and are working on federal requirements for universal reporting of medical errors for all hospitals. Currently, hospitals must track the number of medical errors and adverse events of their patients, examine the causes, and implement procedures to improve patient care to receive Medicare payment. However, these rules are loosely enforced, resulting in poor patient care.