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Patient Safety and Quality

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More than one-third of hospitalized patients are concerned about medical errors, which they define more broadly than clinicians

Nearly all (94 percent) patients at 12 Midwestern hospitals considered their medical safety as good, very good, or excellent, according to a new study. However, 39 percent had at least one medical error-related concern. Most were concerned about medication errors (17 percent of those interviewed), nursing mistakes (15 percent), and problems with medical equipment (10 percent).

Patients who are concerned about medical errors generally have very specific concerns, which reduce their satisfaction with care and willingness to recommend and return to a hospital, note the study authors. Their study also found that patients defined medical errors more broadly than health care workers.

Patients defined medical errors to include not only clinical mistakes, but also falls, communication problems, and responsiveness of providers. If patients' definition of medical errors is broader than the traditional medical definition, providers should clarify the term "error" to ensure effective communication, advise the researchers.

Researchers interviewed by telephone 1,656 patients from 12 Midwestern hospitals in 2002 about their conceptualization of medical errors and perceived risk of 7 types of medical errors: mistake or error with medications, problems with medical equipment, a mistake by nurses, a mistake by physicians, being mistaken for another patient, wrong test/procedure, and being misdiagnosed.

The study was supported in part by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (HS11898).

See "Patients' concerns about medical errors during hospitalization," by Thomas E. Burroughs, Ph.D., Amy D. Waterman, Thomas H. Gallagher, M.D., and others in the January 2007 Journal on Quality and Patient Safety 33(1), pp. 5-14.

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