The data about the frequency of medical errors keeps accumulating. One recent study found that one out of every three people admitted to hospitals sustains injuries from factors unrelated to the condition for which the patient was hospitalized.
The study, which was published in Health Affairs, noted that the number of injuries caused by medical errors might be 10 times higher than previously believed.
Using a new method of measuring adverse outcomes or events – arguably a euphemism for injuries that include numerous medical errors – researchers at the University of Utah reviewed the medical records of 795 patients admitted in October 2004 to three hospitals with renowned safety records. Their method, the Global Trigger Tool, looked for notations that indicated problems such as use of an antidote, an abnormal lab test or a stop order for a medication. When they found such a notation, they delved further to determine whether there had been an adverse event.
During the study, researchers found 354 adverse events in these patient admissions, which was 10 times more than other methods had detected. This led to their finding that adverse events occurred in 1 of every 3 admissions (33.2 percent).
The researchers were quick to point out that the results might be either too high, since they defined adverse events more broadly than in past studies, or too low since hospital records cannot provide as much information as personal observation of the care provided could.
Nonetheless, the upshot of the study is clear. There is a substantial risk of medical errors in a hospital setting.
That is why we encourage people to be actively involved in their own medical care. This starts with asking questions and insisting on answers. In many cases, this may mean having a family member or another advocate speak on your behalf.