According to a 2004 survey conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation, 78% of Americans believe their health care has either stayed the same during the last five years or has gotten worse. Only 16% of respondents believe the quality of their health care had improved since the release of the 1999 report.

The survey also found that about 1 in 3 Americans have either been a victim of a medical error or have had a family member who was.

Although America is believed to have the best healthcare system in the world, medical error rates seem to contradict that notion. A 2005 survey of adults in Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Germany, the United Kingdom, and the United States finds that America has a significant lead in the number of patients reporting medical errors. Thirty-four percent of American respondents said they had experienced medical errors in the last two years compared to just 22% of UK respondents.

Additionally, 51% of American respondents claimed they had skipped treatment, failed to fill a prescription, or did not go to the doctor because of financial reasons. This is compared to 38% in New Zealand, 34% in Australia, 28% in Germany, 26% in Canada, and 13% in the United Kingdom.

American patients also noted a lack of care coordination (not having test results available for appointments or conducting duplicate tests) and poor access to medical treatment outside of the emergency room.

Changes Still Needed

While the suggestions made in the original report continue to be implemented slowly around the country, more changes are needed to move the healthcare industry in the right direction.

One problem involves insurance providers who cover expenses caused by medical errors but who often refuse to pay for preventative measures. Some have suggested that insurance providers should give bonuses to hospitals that reduce their medical errors. For example, hospitals with no preventable pneumonia cases would be paid a bonus of 20%. While this move might cost insurance providers more in the short term, they would also save money by not having to pay for additional treatments needed as a result of medical errors.

Another area for improvement might be to encourage physicians to be more open when mistakes are made. In a University of Toronto study, physicians were asked to role play with actors how they would discuss a medical error made by them with a patient. In only 65% of the examples did the physician admit responsibility for the mistake and in less than 50% of examples did the physicians apologize to patients for the mistake. When physicians have a hard time talking about their mistakes, they are more likely to repeat them and less likely to report them accordingly.

The previously discussed Kaiser survey also found that 92% of Americans want physicians to be required to report their medical errors and more than two-thirds believe that information should be made public. Almost 80% also feel allowing physicians to spend more time with each of their patients would reduce the number of medical errors made.

Resources Used in Article

Five Years After IOM Report on Medical Errors
1.5 Million Americans Affected by Medication Errors
To Err is Human – Summary
Five Years After To Err is Human: What Have We Learned?
Medical Errors Still Claiming Many Lives
Medical Errors Kill Tens of Thousands Annually, Panel Says
Study Explores How Physicians Communicate Mistakes
International Survey: U. S. Leads in Medical Errors

About the Author

Amy Jorgensen is a freelance writer based in southern Indiana. Her articles have appeared in a variety of publications, including Southern California Physician magazine.

The author has no financial relationship to any of the companies listed in the article.  

Topics #medical errors #physician error #to err is human