Study: To patients, many things constitute medical errors
There apparently is a big gap between what patients consider medical errors and what have been held as the traditional clinical definitions, according to a new study published in the January 2007 issue of the Joint Commission Journal on Quality and Patient Safety. In their broader definition, patients include such things as communication problems and responsiveness.

Thus, the report concludes, healthcare providers need to get more detailed information regarding what patients mean when they discuss errors, and vice versa, caregivers need to identify to patients what they mean by “medical error.”

The study looked at over 1,600 patients at 12 Midwestern hospitals and concluded that while most patients feel generally safe during their care, 39 percent experienced concern about at least a single type of medical error during their hospitalization. Certain groups of patients were more likely to be concerned about specific medical errors. The authors of the study believe patients should be encouraged to play a more active role in preventing errors through programs tailored to effectively address the fears and concerns of each type of patient.

“The study underscores that patients and clinicians can have different views of the things that constitute a medical error,” said lead author Thomas E. Burroughs, PhD, St. Louis University. “For patients, clear communication and responsiveness are particularly important. If these are lacking, patients may view this as a medical error. It is important that clinicians recognize these differences, and the importance of communication and responsiveness.”

Other conclusions from the study:
  • A strong link exists between a patient’s concerns about medical errors and his/her satisfaction with the entire hospital experience;
  • Hospitals should consider routine measurement of patient concerns about medical errors as part of patient satisfaction efforts; and
  • Incorporating patient attitudes into safety programs could help prevent medical errors and enhance patient satisfaction with their health care experience.