Nearly Half of Specialists Aware of Occurrence of Medical Errors
Almost half of ear, nose and throat surgeons said they were involved in or were aware of medical errors in their practices in the last six months, according to a survey of otolaryngologists published Tuesday in the journal Laryngoscope, the Boston Globe reports. Researchers from Children's Hospital Boston, Tufts University School of Medicine and Finland's Helsinki University Central Hospital anonymously surveyed 2,500 of their colleagues in 2003 and found that of the 466 surgeons who responded, 45% witnessed a medical error.
The reported errors occurred in all phases of patient care. Seventy-eight mistakes seriously harmed patients, and nine were fatal (Kowalczyk, Boston Globe, 8/3). The authors of the report say that 55% of surgeons reported they had not encountered an error in the last six months, which could indicate that many surgeons are not trained to find mistakes. The survey also found that surgeons younger than age 50 are more likely to report mistakes than older surgeons. The researchers said it was not clear whether senior doctors actually make fewer mistakes or whether younger doctors are more willing to report them, the Boston Herald reports. In the report, researchers wrote, "It is likely that surgeons need to be similarly educated to see small errors as learning opportunities, rather than wait for a patient injury to address a problem" (Lazar, Boston Herald, 8/3).
The report is the "first comprehensive look at the frequency and type of errors in a crucial specialty," according to the Globe (Boston Globe, 8/3). Dr. David Roberson, co-author of the report and an otolaryngologist at Children's Hospital Boston, said, "There is a phenomenal opportunity to improve health care in America through the study of errors" (Boston Herald, 8/3). He added, "The take-home message to doctors is that they need to ask and get information about errors and adverse events specific to their practice."
In an editorial accompanying the study, Lucian Leape, a professor at the Harvard School of Public Health wrote that doctors' efforts to reduce medical errors has accelerated since a 2000 Institute of Medicine report found that medical errors injure more than one million patients and kill as many as 98,000 patients annually. Leape said that most surgeons have not been involved in medical errors and that the study provides an important step toward developing greater knowledge about surgical errors (Boston Globe, 8/3). An abstract of the study is available online.