Medical errors don't just happen at hospitals: study

Tue Jun 14, 2011 10:25pm EDT
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NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - Malpractice claims for medical errors are common outside hospitals, according to a U.S. study that highlights safety problems at doctors' offices as well.

Previous studies have focused mainly on hospitals, some of which now have checklists in place to help prevent mistakes.

But researchers led by Tara Bishop, at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York, found that about half of all U.S. malpractice payments from 2009 involved patients seen outside the hospital.

With "invasive and high-technology diagnostic and therapeutic procedures... increasingly being performed in the outpatient setting," Bishop and her team decided to compare the number and seriousness of adverse events in inpatient and outpatient settings, as reflected by malpractice claims.

What they found, that the number of malpractice claims would be virtually the same for hospitals and doctors' offices, was unexpected.

"We were actually very surprised by that finding," Bishop said of their report, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

"I hope it's a wake-up call for the medical community and for patients, so we can start working on ways to solve these problems."

The researchers analyzed malpractice claim payments from the National Practitioner Data Bank from 2005 to 2009. Overall, the number of payments dropped slightly for patients treated both inside and outside hospitals.

But in 2009, the last year of the study, there were 4,910 payments due to inpatient errors, 4,448 due to outpatient errors, and 966 involving both settings.   Continued...