Over one-third of docs say they have experienced medical errors

March 1, 2003

Pharmaceutical Representative

Forty-two percent of the American public and more than one-third of U.S. doctors say they or their family members have experienced medical errors in the course of receiving medical care.

Forty-two percent of the American public and more than one-third of U.S. doctors say they or their family members have experienced medical errors in the course of receiving medical care, according to a survey by the Harvard School of Public Health and the Washington-based Kaiser Family Foundation. The nationwide survey examined the views of 831 physicians from April to July 2002 and 1,207 adults from April to June 2002.

However, implementing the actions recommended by experts on medical errors may not be easy. Despite widespread personal experience, neither the public nor physicians named medical errors as a top problem facing healthcare and medicine today.

"This survey provides strong documentation that medical errors represent a problem that affects a significant number of people," said Drew Altman, president and chief executive officer of Kaiser. "The fact that so many physicians report personal experiences with errors corroborates what we heard from the public."

Experience with medical errors

Thirty-five percent of physicians and 42% of the public reported experiencing a medical error (as defined by the survey) in their own care or that of a family member at some point in their life; 18% of physicians and 24% of the public said an error caused "serious health consequences" such as death (reported by 7% of physicians and 10% of the public), long-term disability (6% and 11%, respectively) or severe pain (11% and 16%, respectively).

Three in 10 doctors (29%) said that in their role as a physician, they had seen a medical error that resulted in serious harm to a patient in the last year, and a majority of those who had seen an error said it was "very likely" (15%) or "somewhat likely" (45%) that they would see a similar one at the same institution in the next year.

Not a top problem

Doctors and the public agreed that as many as half of the deaths due to medical errors could have been prevented, but neither group listed medical errors among the top "problems facing healthcare and medicine in the country today." Only 5% of physicians and 6% of the public identified medical errors as a top concern.

Instead, when asked in an open-ended question to name the top problems facing healthcare and medicine today, physicians identified malpractice insurance costs and lawsuits (29%), healthcare costs (27%), and problems with insurance companies and health plans (22%). The public cited the cost of healthcare (38%) and the cost of prescription drugs (31%) as the top problems facing healthcare and medicine. PR

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