In Survey, 21% Report Personal Experience With Medical Errors

The cause, they said, involved an average of at least seven factors

One out of five adults report that they have personally experienced a medical error, according to a national survey released by the Institute for Healthcare Improvement/National Patient Safety Foundation (IHI/NPSF) Lucian Leape Institute and NORC at the University of Chicago.

 Although the vast majority of Americans are having positive experiences with the health care system, the survey finds that when errors occur, they often have a lasting effect—73% reported a long-term or permanent impact on the patient’s physical health, emotional health, financial well-being, or family relationships.

The nationwide survey of more than 2,500 adults was conducted by NORC from May 12 to June 26, 2017. The survey expands on a 1997 survey conducted by NPSF, which merged with IHI earlier this year.

Beyond the 21% of adults who report personally experiencing errors, 31% of Americans report that someone else whose care they were closely involved with experienced an error. The new survey finds that ambulatory settings are a frequent site of medical errors.

Among the survey’s other notable findings:

  • Nearly half of those who perceived that an error had occurred brought it to the attention of medical personnel or other staff at the health care facility.
  • Most respondents believe that, while health care providers are chiefly responsible for patient safety, patients and their families also have a role to play.
  • When asked what caused the medical error they experienced, people identified, on average, at least seven different factors.
  • Most respondents say they believe safety overall has stayed the same (39%) or improved (29%) in the last five years, but 12% say it has worsened and 19% are unsure.
  • Medical misdiagnosis and mistakes related to provider and patient communications are the most commonly reported types of errors.

“The focus on diagnostic errors and the outpatient settings closely parallels other research in this area and confirms that health care improvers need to take a systems approach to safety that encompasses all settings of care, not just hospitals,” says Tejal K. Gandhi, MD, MPH, CPPS, Chief Clinical and Safety Officer of IHI, and President of the IHI/NPSF Lucian Leape Institute.

Few Americans worry about patient safety personally. More than eight in 10 believe that patient safety is the responsibility of health care providers, hospital leaders and administrators, as well as family members and patients.

The survey featured a nationally representative sample of 2,536 adults using the AmeriSpeak Panel, the probability-based panel of NORC at the University of Chicago. The sample also included an oversample of low socioeconomic status adults with less than a high school education and a household income of less than $50,000 a year (n = 524). Interviews were completed online and using landlines and cell phones. Results have a margin of sampling error of +/- 3.2 percentage points.

Sources: NORC; September 28, 2017; Report; September 2017.