Patient safety may take a back seat to the realities of the health care culture in the United States. Preventable medical errors have been identified as the third leading cause of death in the country, according to a study conducted by Patient Safety America. The study estimated that medical mistakes may kill as many as 440,000 people every year. Addressing these mistakes has been complicated by the reluctance of hospitals, doctors and other medical providers to be open about errors and to report them when they do occur. Not only are doctors and nurses unwilling to report their own mistakes, they may feel pressure to hide the mistakes of their fellow health care professionals.
Part of the problem is that doctors may not know how to proceed when a decision or action taken by a colleague leads to harm. Doctors may feel the onus is on the person who made the mistake to report it. The result could be silence and a lost opportunity to fix a problem that could harm patients in the future. New guidelines published in the New England Journal of Medicine are attempting to address the problem of when and how to report a medical error made by someone else.
Similar efforts to improve reporting of medical mistakes at the University of Illinois, Chicago, led to a massive increase in official reports. The only way to see that mistakes are addressed and rectified is to acknowledge that they are happening and discuss methods to prevent them in the future. More reports leads to more opportunities to identify where and how the medical system broke down.
Source: NBC News, "When docs make mistakes, should colleagues tell? Yes, report says," by JoNel Aleccia, 30 October 2013