One condition of receiving Medicare payments is that hospitals are required to report, track and analyze medical events that harm patients. The expectation is that hospitals will use this information to change, adapt or improve their policies or practices so that preventable errors do not injure future patients.
A report by the inspector general of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Daniel R. Levinson, found that only one in seven Medicare patient harms or accidents are actually reported by hospital staff, even though they are required by law to do so. Even serious errors like hospital-acquired infections and fatalities are going unreported, and are just as likely to be unreported as other errors, including bedsores, delirium from too much pain medication, and allergic reactions to medications.
Mr. Levinson said there could be a number of reasons why hospital employees are not reporting these errors, such as not recognizing what “constitutes a patient harm,” not knowing which harms needed to be reported, believing another employee will report the harm, or thinking the harm was either so common or so unique (and thus unlikely to happen again) to require reporting.
Further, according to the New York Times, the report found that even when errors are reported and analyzed, little effort was made to amend hospital policies and procedures to prevent the potential repetition of errors.
The HHS report is only looking at instances involving Medicare patients, situations in which the law requires hospitals to examine patient safety through reports, analysis and the implementation of change. So, when six out of seven errors are not being reported when required, important questions are raised about safety concerns for all patients.