Healthcare News & Insights

Are 90% of medical errors unreported?

New research indicates medical errors may happen 10 times as often as was once believed.

That’s the takeaway from a report just published in Health Affairs.

In a new study, researchers at the University of Utah and the Institute for Healthcare Improvement, looked at three methods for identifying adverse events among nearly 800 patients who had been hospitalized.

The study drew on comparable samples of patients from three leading hospitals that had undertaken quality and safety improvement efforts.

Of the reporting methods used, the number of adverse events actually detected varied greatly:

  • Voluntary reporting detected four events
  • the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) Indicators detected 35, and
  • the Global Trigger Tool detected 354 events.

According to the researchers, the AHRQ indicators and voluntary reporting thus missed more than 90% of adverse events identified by the Global Trigger Tool — and they consider that a conservative number because they relied on medical record review, which would be expected to pick up fewer adverse events than real-time observation would.

The researchers say that voluntary reporting and AHRQ indicators may be giving a misleading impression that the U.S. health care system is safer than it is.

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