Why The Majority of Medical Malpractice Cases Go Unreported

Even though medical error reporting is mandated, oftentimes such incidents go unreported.

According to a report just released by the Office of Inspector General, in the US Department of Health and Human Services, approximately 86% of patient errors in hospitals are never reported and do not make their way into the databases of incident reporting systems, which were designed to improve the quality of patient care.

As a condition of participation in the Medicare program, hospitals must keep track of and analyze incidents of patient harm. The incident reporting systems are a common method that hospitals use to satisfy this requirement.

A previous report from 2010 found that 13.5% of Medicare beneficiaries experienced "adverse events", which is a term used to describe harm to a patient as a result of medical care. These adverse events, during their hospital stays, resulted in extended hospitalizations, required life-sustaining intervention, caused permanent disabilities or resulted in the death of the patient.

The reason stated as to why the hospital staff did not report these events to the incident reporting systems was partly due to staff misunderstandings about what constitutes patient harm. Additionally, hospital administrators classified 86% of the unreported events as either events that the staff did not think needed to be reported (62%) or that the staff commonly reported but did not report in this situation (25%).

The report further found that nurses, not doctors, most often reported adverse events, which were typically identified through their regular course of care of the patient.

Of the hospitals sampled, all had incident reporting systems to record events and hospital administrators stated they relied heavily on their systems to identify problems. However, hospital accreditors reported that in determining and evaluating hospital safety practices, they relied more heavily on how event information is used rather than how it is reported.

The results of these studies, investigations and interviews led to the report entitled "Hospital Incident Reporting Systems Do Not Capture Most Patient Harm."

If you or a loved one is hospitalized, do not blindly place your trust in the medical professionals providing your care and treatment. One of the lessons to be learned from this information is that if you or a loved one is hospitalized have a patient advocate, a family member or friend who is there to assist the patient and who can be with the patient as much as possible. Above all, ask questions, voice your concerns and make sure you understand everything so you can do your part to actively participate in getting better and hopefully prevent needless adverse events.