U.S. News

Hospital Errors May Occur In A <em>Third</em> Of Admissions

People go into hospitals expecting to be taken care of, but a new study shows that "adverse events" -- injuries caused by hospital error -- are 10 times more frequent than previously estimated.

The new report from the journal Health Affairs looked at samples of inpatient records from three leading hospitals across the country -- all of which have made efforts to improve their overall quality and safety by investing heavily in new programs and research projects. But in spite of those efforts, researchers found that adverse events occurred in as many as one-third of all admitted patients.

The study's authors evaluated the incidence of adverse events using several methods -- among them, the so-called "Global Trigger Tool" designed by the Institute for Healthcare Improvement, which coauthored the study.

The tool, which is already used by many hospitals across the country, helps detect incidences of harm, or what the study's authors described as "unintended physical injury resulting from, or contributed to, by medical care."

Using the new method, scientists logged 345 "events" or hospital errors out of a pool of 795 records. When they evaluated the records using other methods (including local hospital reporting systems) they found only between four and 35 hospital errors. Which led them to conclude that previous estimates of hospital errors have likely been significantly off -- a fact that could derail a decade-long effort to improve hospital safety in the U.S.

The study's authors conclude:

Our findings indicate that two methods commonly used by most care delivery organizations ... fail to detect more than 90 percent of the adverse events that occur among hospitalized patients. Reliance on such methods could produce misleading conclusions about safety in the U.S. health care system and could misdirect patient safety improvement efforts.