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Report: Hospital Errors May Be Far More Common Than Suspected
Date:4/7/2011

By Steven Reinberg
HealthDay Reporter

THURSDAY, April 7 (HealthDay News) -- A new method for identifying medical errors contends that as many as 90 percent of hospital mistakes are overlooked.

The actual error rate is 10 times greater than previously thought, despite a recent focus on reducing error rates and improving patient safety, a new study suggests.

"The more you look for errors, the more you find," said lead researcher Dr. David C. Classen, an associate professor of medicine at the University of Utah.

"There is a large opportunity for improvement, despite all the work that's been done," he said. "And we need better measurement systems to assess how we are doing in patient safety."

One factor in the high number of errors is that hospital patients tend to be sicker than they were years ago, Classen noted. With the advent of outpatient treatment, "the healthier patients are no longer in hospitals," he said.

"We have a much more complicated patient mix, more problems, more medications, so there is more room for error," Classen explained.

In addition, better methods exist for detecting errors, he said. In this study, researchers used a new comprehensive review of hospital records, called the Global Trigger Tool. Moreover, the tool was used by experienced reviewers from outside the hospitals, Classen said.

Most hospitals rely on voluntary error reporting systems or coding systems that utilize records on patients' charts, Classen said. These are the methods recommended by the U.S. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ), he noted.

"It turns out that both those methods are dramatically inferior to Global Trigger Tool," Classen said. "The problem is that most hospitals use these methods to track their safety problems, and they are missing 90 percent of them," he stated.

The report is published in the April issue of Health Affairs.

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