Survey Shows Doctors Report Only 14 Percent of Errors
A study by the Office of the Inspector General for the Department of Health and Human Services has found that doctors and hospitals are reporting only 14 percent of their mistakes when caring for Medicare patients, raising disturbing questions about accountability and quality of care in the nation’s medical facilities.
A Clear Attempt To Avoid Responsibility
Also like most people, doctors don’t like to admit their mistakes—and the stakes of taking responsibility for negative outcomes are much higher than for your average office drone. Doctor error can expose health workers to millions in liability for malpractice and wrongful death, so they have even greater incentive to brush their “oops” moments under the proverbial rug. Indeed, last week’s survey results made it clear that under reporting of error has reached epidemic proportions.
“The survey demonstrates a clear attempt on the part of doctors to avoid responsibility for their actions,” says Illinois attorney John Perconti. “Reporting may have negative consequences to credentialing as well as exposure to a third party claims. For these reasons, I am not surprised these errors are being under reported.”
A False Sense of Security
According to Consumer Reports, 180,000 Medicare patients die per year in part due to medical error, and one in four patients total, or about 9 million, are subject to mistakes by doctors and hospitals.
Unfortunately, it’s not just the victims who suffer and die when mistakes get covered up. Ultimately, anyone who might pass through the hospital in the future is put at risk. “The reporting of medical errors leads to corrective action to prevent future similar mistakes,” Perconti says. “Often, hospitals will change their policies and procedures because of medical errors. These changes promote safety and minimize risk to future patients.”
Furthermore, refusing to admit mistakes robs consumers of the ability to make informed choices about where to go for care. “Doctors and hospitals are often selected based upon their reputation in the community,” the lawyer says. “Under reporting of medical errors gives the consumer a false sense of security. All consumers should have sufficient factual evidence available to make an intelligent decision in selecting their doctor or hospital. Any reasonable consumer would not select a doctor or hospital with a significant number of medical errors.”
Coverup For Monetary Gain
The survey of 189 hospitals found they all had reporting systems in place (as required to receive Medicare reimbursement from the federal government) and all relied on those systems to make improvements in patient safety. Why, then, ignore the 86 percent of teachable moments that could help improve care and outcomes for everyone?
“Hospitals and doctors will cover up medical mistakes for monetary gain,” Perconti says. “They do not want to admit error and face losing staff privileges or a civil suit for money damages.” However, the lawyer points out, caregivers who stubbornly insist they did no wrong can actually be susceptible to larger claims and more prolonged, expensive litigation with patients and survivors angry at the lack of accountability.
“Patients (plaintiffs) are more likely to want to reach an early out of court reasonable settlement when the medical provider is willing to accept responsibility for their conduct,” the attorney explains. “A failure to admit or cover up an error often creates animosity between the parties and can lead to protracted litigation.”
More Transparency Between Patient and Provider
- Creating a list to clarify reportable events to distribute to doctors and hospitals
- Improve auditing training for surveyors who track and analyze events in hospitals
The DHHS director concurred with the recommendations. In addition, Perconti suggests that the hospitals make changes on their end. “Hospitals and doctors often conduct a post-occurrence investigation of medical errors but do not share the results of their investigation with the patient,” he says. “There should be more transparency between patient and provider. This transparency would lead to early resolution of civil claims and changes in procedure to prevent similar incidents. These changes would create a safer environment for all patients.”