Mistakes Are Real

Physician's Money Digest, January31 2003, Volume 10, Issue 2

Afew years ago, a study claiming that medicalerrors caused nearly 100,000 unnecessarydeaths in the United States met with widespreadpublicity and more than a few physician-critics whoquestioned the methodology used. Now a newstudy, conducted by the Harvard Medical School andthe Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, confirms thatmedical errors are very real and have an impact onboth doctors and the public at large.

According to the study, 1 of 10 members of thegeneral public and 7% of doctors say that a familymember has died because of preventable errors intheir medical care. In addition, 12% of the doctorsand 17% of the general public said that they or a relativehad been the victim of a medical error seriousenough to cause lost time from work or school.Overall, more than a third of all doctors and 40% ofthe general public said that either they or a familymember had experienced a medical error. The medicalerrors had serious consequences, according to18% of the doctors and 24% of the public.

Physicians tend to blame medical errors on theshortage of health care workers, especially nurses,which leads to stress, overwork, and fatigue. Thepublic, on the other hand, while agreeing that medicalpersonnel are understaffed and overworked,also blame doctors for not taking enough time withpatients. The public also sees missed communicationsand lack of teamwork among health careworkers as part of the problem.