Commonwealth Fund Report Shows Prevalence of Healthcare Errors

Commonwealth Fund Report Shows Prevalence of Healthcare Errors

A new report from the New York City-based Commonwealth Fund reveals that more than 20 percent of Americans report that they or a family member have experienced a medical or prescription drug error, with some of those errors resulting in more serious health problems.

The report, "Room for Improvement: Patients Report on the Quality of Their Health Care," is based on a survey commissioned by the Fund in 2001, which included interviews with 6,722 adults. Ten percent said that they or a family member had gotten sicker as a result of a mistake in a doctor's office or hospital, and about half of those respondents said the error resulted in a serious problem. Of the 16 percent that reported a medication error, more than one-fifth said the error turned out being very serious. The survey results translate into an estimated 22.8 million reporting at least one family member who has experienced a mistake and about 8.1 million households reporting that an error resulted in a serious problem.

"Physicians are taught 'First, do no harm.' Yet the evidence shows that harm is widespread," said Karen Davis, president of the Fund. "U.S. medicine must commit itself to achieving higher, industry-standard levels of quality in patient safety, and that goal must extend to all aspects of medical care, in surgical suites, hospitals and nursing homes, physicians' offices, and pharmacies."

The report also highlights problems with the interactions between patients and physicians. One of four Americans who saw a doctor in the last two years did not follow the doctor's advice, most often because they disagreed with it. One in five respondents reported communication problems such as not understanding information, not feeling they were listened to, or having questions they did not ask. In addition, the report shows that preventive care services are underutilized. Nearly half of the adults surveyed had not had an annual dental exam, 20 percent hadn't had a cholesterol screening in the past five years, and 20 percent of the female respondents had failed to receive a Pap test in the last three years.

"New Study Estimates Eight Million American Families Experienced a Serious Medical or Drug Error" Commonwealth Fund Press Release 04/15/2002.