1 In 5 Americans Have Fallen Victim To Medical Errors, Survey Finds

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — Medical errors by healthcare professionals don’t just put a patient’s physical health at risk, they can be equally damaging to a person’s mental state and financial well-being. A new study examining the frequency of medical mistakes reveals an unsettling statistic: 1 in 5 people are victims of such blunders.

Researchers at the University of Chicago conducted a survey of more than 2,500 American adults. The survey expanded on a previous poll from 1997 conducted by the National Patient Safety Foundation. From May 12 through June 26, 2017, the research team sought to find the effects and the causes of medical errors.

Doctor looking at x-ray
Medical errors by healthcare professionals don’t just put a patient’s physical health at risk, they can be equally damaging to a person’s mental state and financial well-being.

Twenty-one percent of the respondents said they personally had experienced a medical mistake, while 31 percent acknowledged someone else whose care they were closely involved had been a victim. The results showed that ambulatory sites are common places where errors occur. Mishaps related to patient-provider communications and diagnosis are the most commonly reported.

“The survey results show that Americans recognize that patient safety is a critically important, but complex, issue,” says Tejal K. Gandhi, chief clinical and safety officer at the Institute for Healthcare Improvement, in a statement. “The focus on diagnostic errors and the outpatient settings closely parallels other research in this area and confirms that health care improvers need to take a systems approach to safety that encompasses all settings of care, not just hospitals.”

The survey also found that only half of the respondents who believed they were victims of an error reported it to the health care facility where it occurred. Most respondents agreed that health care providers are chiefly responsible for medical errors, but that patients also have a role to play in preventing them.

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“This new survey is notable for highlighting how medical harm impacts emotional health and family relationships,” adds Linda K. Kenney, president of the Medically Induced Trauma Support Services, and a prominent patient advocate. “I think one of the most valuable findings is the degree to which patients are willing, and expect, to be involved in their care. The fact that many people who experienced an error spoke up about it confirms that patients and families are vital to informing health care organizations about harm and how to prevent it in the future.”

The survey was presented at the 10th Annual IHI/NPSF Lucian Leape Institute Forum & Keynote Dinner in 2017 and can be found at the Institute for Healthcare Improvement website.

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