The families of the victims of hospital errors are often told that these type of problems and complications “just happen” or are unfortunate but “we did all we could do”.
Perhaps for this reason, the inspector general of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has released a new report finding that over 80 percent of all hospital errors in the United States are unreported. The report, released last week, used data from Medicare patients as a proxy for the general population.
In addition to the chronic underreporting of errors, the report found that in the vast majority of hospitals, no changes to policies and practices were made when an error occurred to prevent that same error from recurring.
Common errors which were unreported and did not inspire any changes were overused medications, administering the wrong medication, allowing patients to contract hospital-borne infections, and allowing severe bedsores to develop. Interestingly, more serious errors, including those that lead to patient deaths, were no more likely to result in a report than minor or trivial errors.
This problem is of course significant to analysis of medical malpractice trends and claims. But it is also highly significant in Medicare law. Hospitals which collect payments from Medicare are obligated to both track and analyze all medical errors which occur. Yet this study shows that not only are hospitals and their employees failing to report errors that cause patient harm, but hospitals are also eschewing real analysis and change in response to those errors. This leaves hospitals open to both Medicare-abuse charges and accusations of medical malpractice by future victims.
This is not the first study to reach this conclusion. In April of last year, the journal “Health Affairs” published a study which found that one-third of all hospital visits resulted in a hospital-acquired illness or injury, and that around 90 percent of hospital errors went unreported. Of those errors, 44 percent were conclusively preventable.
All this is why, if you or a loved one are admitted to the hospital, you simply must take responsibility for protecting yourself from errors and medical malpractice: the hospital will not do so for you.
Things that you can do include the simple act of asking questions, tracking each person – whether nurse, doctor, or other personnel – who participates in your care, tracking your medications and confirming the identity of the medication and the dosage before it is administered, and requesting that all personnel who enter the room wash and sterilize their hands before beginning examination, consultation, or treatment.
Although the hospital’s failure to itself perform any or all of these tasks can be medical malpractice for which you can be compensated, no compensation can truly replace your lost health or lost loved ones.
For a free consultation with an experienced Chicago medical malpractice lawyer at Passen & Powell, call us at (312) 527-4500.