Reporting Medical Errors to Improve Patient Safety

Collecting data on medical errors is essential for improving patient safety, although little is known about how physicians and other health care providers view error disclosure, how frequently they report errors, and what the obstacles to their reporting them might be. In this study, the authors examined these issues by surveying 338 faculty and resident physicians drawn from three medical centers in the west, mid-Atlantic and northeast regions of the United States.

Key Findings:

  • As many as 17.8 percent of the participant physicians acknowledged reporting a minor error while only 3.8 percent acknowledged reporting a major error.
  • Only 39.5 percent of the participants knew what kind of errors should be reported, and only 54.8 percent of respondents knew how to make a report.
  • More than half of the respondents admitted concerns about professional discipline when thinking about disclosing errors.

The researchers found that most faculty members and physicians showed a hypothetical willingness to report errors even though only a minority of them had done so. This suggests that physicians' attitudes about the value of error reporting did not match their behaviors. Institutions should make efforts to convince physicians that error reporting is respected and worthwhile.