Doctors Believe Fear of Malpractice Lawsuits Is Deterrent to Medical Error Reporting, Study Finds
Most doctors agree that reducing medical errors "should be a national priority," and almost all physicians believe "fear of medical malpractice is a barrier" to reporting errors, according to a study in the current issue of Archives of Internal Medicine, the AP/Contra Costa Times reports. The study also found that the public is more likely than doctors to view "quality of care" as a problem (Vogt, AP/Contra Costa Times, 10/28). For the study, University of Colorado Health Sciences Center researchers mailed surveys to 1,000 Colorado physicians and 1,000 national physicians and surveyed 500 Colorado households by telephone to "assess agreement with several proposals and conclusions" from a 1999 IOM report that found preventable medical errors contribute to up to 98,000 deaths per year (Robinson et al., Archives of Internal Medicine, 10/28). According to the survey, 67.6% of the general public said quality of care is a "significant" problem, compared with 34.9% of national doctors and 29.1% of Colorado doctors. In addition, 59.8% of the general public, 32.2% of national physicians and 24.1% of Colorado physicians said there should be a national agency to address medical errors. Some 92.9% of Colorado doctors and 93.1% of national doctors said "more training is needed" to address medical errors, according to the survey.
Dr. Andrew Robinson, the study's lead author, said the most "significant finding was the large discrepancy in opinion between the public and physicians," the AP/Times reports. He added, "[B]ut at the same time I think it has the benefit of perhaps driving change." Marilynn Rosenthal, a medical errors expert at the University of Michigan medical school, said, "The big problem is that medicine is not an exact science and there are various degrees of uncertainty. Very often when the outcome is not good, the patient thinks it was an error. In the doctors' mind, because of what they understand about the uncertainty of their work, it was a known risk." Robinson also said that he would like to "hear suggestions" from physicians about how to establish a better medical error reporting system. Congress is considering a bill (HR 4889) sponsored by Rep. Nancy Johnson (R-Conn.) that would establish confidential, voluntary data banks to store and study medical error data and help error-prevention efforts (AP/Contra Costa Times, 10/28). The Archives of Internal Medicine study is available online.This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.