A new University of Iowa study focuses on how often doctors in teaching hospitals report their errors. The study’s author, Dr. Lauris Kaldjian, a professor of internal medicine at the U-of-I, says you can’t fix a situation unless you know what needs fixing.
"We found that, on average, physicians, both teaching doctors as well as those doctors who are in training, they want to report errors because they believe that reporting improves the quality of care for future patients, but there seems to be a gap between that sense of knowing that this is the right and good thing to do and then how often it’s actually done," Kaldjian says. He says the research makes it clear that doctors know they need to report their errors so everyone can learn from one person’s mistakes.
Kaldjian says: "Whereas about 84-percent of individuals said this was important, much fewer than that have actually reported an error to their hospital, so there’s a gap between the desire to do it and actually doing it." He says the findings are not a complete surprise.
Kaldjian says: "On the one hand, it’s not (a surprise) because you can come up with all sorts of reasons why people have good intentions but their behavior doesn’t necessarily meet those expectations. Having said that, we also found that about half of doctors didn’t know how to report errors to their hospital and only 40-percent knew what kind of errors should be reported." He says he has a message for anyone who might be concerned by the findings.
Kaldjian says: "We have to be honest about mistakes when they happen. Human beings are all imperfect, including doctors. Hospitals and other health care systems are systems and the systems can be better or poorer and we need to do our best to find out where we need to improve them and our data suggests doctors want to be a part of that improvement process."
Kaldjian and his team got survey responses from 338 physicians from across the U.S. Among them, 73-percent said they would report to their institution a hypothetical error resulting in minor harm and 92-percent said they would report a hypothetical error resulting in major harm. In actuality few physicians have reported a minor error, 18%, or a major error, 4%, to their hospital.
In addition, 17% acknowledged not reporting an actual minor error and 4% acknowledged not reporting an actual major error. The study is being published in the latest issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine.