Healthcare News & Insights

Family members key in finding, avoiding errors in hospitals

Most clinicians do their best to make sure medical errors don’t happen to patients, especially children. But sometimes, despite this effort, mistakes happen, and it’s important to identify and correct them right away. Even the most diligent doctors and nurses may miss an error. When this happens, it’s important to turn to an expert source: the patient’s family members. 

According to new research, parents of hospitalized children often notice medical errors and other adverse events that providers fail to document.

Per an article from Reuters, researchers surveyed parents who took their children to one of four U.S pediatric centers about mistakes and adverse events their children experienced in the hospital. They also surveyed the clinical team that cared for each child, and reviewed medical records and incident reports. The results were published in a recent issue of JAMA Pediatrics.

Families notice issues

While similar error rates were reported by both parents and clinical staff in researchers’ surveys, many family-reported incidents didn’t end up in the child’s official medical record. Nearly half of family-reported errors and almost a quarter of family-reported adverse events weren’t documented in the record.

Hospital incident reports also didn’t include issues reported by parents. Family-reported error rates were five times higher than those from hospital incident reports. Rates of adverse events reported by parents were three times higher.

If these family-reported incidents were always counted in official tallies, it would impact rates of errors and adverse events significantly. Overall, error rates were 16% higher when incidents noticed by parents were included. In addition, rates of adverse events were 10% higher when they included family-reported data.

Specific adverse events noted by parents in the survey varied, from medication side effects to multiple needle sticks during a procedure. While only a small percentage were entirely preventable, even one preventable error is too many – especially in the eyes of the feds and payors.

Teamwork prevents errors

The results of this research and other similar studies show the importance of viewing patients’ family members as watchdogs for patient care. If clinical staff treat family members as partners in the patient’s treatment and care, it can help improve patient outcomes overall.

That means staff should seek family members’ feedback about any errors or safety issues they notice, and take their concerns seriously. Because family-reported adverse events and errors often don’t make it to medical records or official hospital incident reports, clinical staff must improve the process used to document these events.

Having a specific process in place to keep track of family-reported incidents can help doctors and nurses better identify gaps in the treatment process that contribute to these problems. That way, they can be addressed and fixed before they cause harm to another patient.

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