Medical Error: The Public Perception

People ask me what I do for my day job. I work on helping physicians save time, save money, and save lives using medical informatics. I’m currently finishing up a paper on using information technology to build an autopilot for healthcare that will be published as a chapter in a least two books. One of my surgeon co-authors has pushed me into expanding the section on medical error. Simultaneously, old friends are calling me from the hospital and asking me to talk to their physicians about medical error they are experiencing in real time.

Since this site is dedicated to those who wish to live long and prosper, understanding this problem and developing strategies to deal with it are essential to avoid becoming a mortality statistic. Inpatient iatrogenic medical error is the third leading cause of death and all sources of medical error (inpatient, outpatient, nursing home, etc.) is the leading cause of death. I intend to post several notes on medical error this month as I work on getting my paper to the publishers and will recommend some steps to take for those of you who might be going into a hospital.

40% of U.S. Public Believes Quality of Care Has Worsened in Last Five Years
Many Say They or a Family Member Have Experienced Medical Error, Report Indicates
[Nov 18, 2004]

Four in 10 U.S. residents believe that the quality of health care in the United States has worsened in the past five years, despite widespread efforts by the health care industry to reduce medical errors following a 1999 Institute of Medicine report that attributed between 44,000 and 98,000 deaths annually to mistakes made in U.S. hospitals, according to a survey released Thursday by the Kaiser Family Foundation, Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality and the Harvard School of Public Health, the Scripps Howard/Detroit News reports (Bowman, Scripps Howard/Detroit News, 11/18).

For the survey — which has a margin of error of plus or minus two percentage points — researchers surveyed 2,012 randomly selected adults across the United States by phone from July 7 to Sept. 5. Findings are summarized below.

* Forty percent of the public believes that the quality of care in the United States has worsened in the past five years, compared with 38% who believe it has stayed the same and 17% who believe it has improved (May Yee, Minneapolis Star Tribune, 11/17).

* About 55% of the public are dissatisfied with the quality of care, up from 44% four years ago (Bloomberg, 11/17).

* Forty-eight percent of the public are concerned about the safety of medical care that they and their families receive (Minneapolis Star Tribune, 11/18).

* Thirty-four percent of the public say that either they or a family member have experienced a medical error at some point.

* People with chronic conditions were more likely to express concern about their quality of care and to report having experienced a medical error themselves or having a family member who did, according to the survey (Kaiser Family Foundation release, 11/17).

* Twenty-one percent of the public say they experienced a medical error that caused “serious health consequences,” with 8% saying the result was death, 11% saying the result was long-term disability and 16% citing severe pain (Minneapolis Star Tribune, 11/18).

* Of those who experienced a medical error, nearly three in four say the physician has “a lot” of responsibility for the mistake, and 11% say they sued for malpractice. Among those who said the medical error resulted in serious health consequences, 14% sued for malpractice (Heil, CongressDaily, 11/17).

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