News: Would you report a medical error?

May 1, 2008

In a survey of faculty and resident physicians at three teaching hospitals, researchers found that 92% of 338 respondents would report a hypothetical error it it resulted in major harm.

In a survey of faculty and resident physicians at three teaching hospitals in the Midwest, Mid-Atlantic, and Northeast regions, researchers found that 92% of the 338 respondents would report a hypothetical error if it resulted in major harm such as disability or death, but just 3.8% said they actually had reported such a mistake to their institutions. Moreover, 73% said they would report a hypothetical minor error that resulted in prolonged treatment or caused discomfort to a patient, but only 17.8% said they had actually reported such a mistake.

The researchers hypothesize that the gap between attitude and practice may be due to a lack of knowledge on how to report such errors and which errors to report: Only 54.8% knew how to report mistakes and just 39.5% knew what kinds of errors to report. Moreover, when given a hypothetical situation that did not result in harm, only 43% said they would report the near miss.

Notably, the researchers also found that 47.9% of faculty and residents would be more likely to report errors if they knew they would receive feedback afterwards. Wrote the researchers in the Archives of Internal Medicine (1/14/08): "Institutions can send important signals to those who report errors by acknowledging reports soon after they are submitted and, once assessed, informing the reporter how the report contributed (or is expected to contribute) to patient safety."