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A Project To Report Medical Mistakes

The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality is seeking approval for a new method by which patients can report medical mistakes. Federal officials explained that unreported medical errors are a lost opportunity to make health care safer. Unless hospitals choose to report their own errors, information that could be used to reduce infections, improve surgical practices and otherwise enhance the quality of health care is often lost.

The proposal received a cautious endorsement from several groups within the industry. The American Hospital Association called it a "great concept," but other groups warned that patient reports should be paired with medical records to ensure accuracy. The chairman of the Council on Research and Quality listed several areas where patients are often confused about what is a medical error and what is simply the expected outcome of a procedure. For example, red wounds after a surgery may be reported by patients as an infection, even in cases where no infection exists. For now, the American Medical Association has chosen not to comment while it reviews the details of the proposal.

A survey conducted in Massachusetts found that it is not uncommon for patients to report errors that do not appear in their medical records. Some research has indicated that nearly 25 percent of patients who are hospitalized are harmed in some way by the care they receive. The proposal would encourage patients to report adverse events experienced during their care through either a website or in telephone interviews. Reporting would be voluntary and the patients' medical information would remain confidential.

Source: The New York Times, "New System for Patients to Report Medical Mistakes," by Robert Pear, 22 September 2012

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