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Patient Safety and Quality

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Consumers are unlikely to engage in protective behaviors to prevent medical errors

About 42 percent of the U.S. public says either they or a family member has experienced a medical error. Although the public has been provided with actions they can take to protect themselves against medical errors, consumers are unlikely to engage in very many of them, according to a study supported by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (HS11500). Consumers with more self-efficacy (confidence in their ability to prevent medical errors), however, indicate that they would be more likely to take preventive action.

Researchers asked 195 consumers (predominantly white with an average age of 42) in Oregon how serious the problem of patient safety was, how effective recommended actions in protecting against errors were, and how likely they were to engage in the recommended actions. Overall, 27 percent of consumers thought that patient safety was not a serious problem, while only 23 percent thought that medical errors were not a serious problem, even though both refer to the same topic.

Consumers viewed most of the recommended actions as highly effective, especially long-standing recommendations such as choosing a surgeon based on surgical experience and making sure the doctors know about prescription drugs the patient is taking. Newer recommendations were perceived as less effective, such as choosing a hospital that has a computer system for tracking each patient's medications. Consumers were less likely to take actions that required them to question medical professionals about their judgment, for example, having the surgeon mark where the surgery will be, even though they thought this questioning might help protect them from harm.

More details are in "Can patients be part of the solution? Views on their role in preventing medical errors," by Judith H. Hibbard, Dr.P.H., Ellen Peters, Ph.D., Paul Slovic, Ph.D., and Martin Tusler, M.S., in the October 2005 Medical Care Research and Review 62(5), pp. 601-615.

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