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Study: Hospitals Never Tell 98% of Patients About Medication Errors

New research concluded that the medical profession has a tendency to keep potentially dangerous secrets. According to a survey of 840,000 reported instances of medication errors, hospitals and doctors only told two percent of patients that something went wrong.

While most medication errors are harmless, drug overdoses, underdoses and mistaken prescriptions lead to serious injuries. Out of the surveyed cases, 110 people died because of these mistakes.

This study divided mistakes up between those that occurred in intensive care units and those that happened in other contexts. The ICU patients were simultaneously more likely to suffer harm after a medication error and less likely to find out that a caregiver made a mistake. Four percent of these patients suffered injuries from these errors.

The most common mistakes are so called errors of "omission" - for example, a nurse who forgets to administer a medication. Calculating proper doses also figured heavily in cases of mistakes.

Surprisingly, hospitals often went beyond failing to tell a patient about an error. More than half of the cases resulted in no action by hospital officials whatsoever. Two-thirds of hospitals did not even bother to tell the nurse or caregiver that he or she made a mistake.

This research demonstrates a concerning attitude about patient safety and, perhaps more importantly, a patient's right to know that something out of the ordinary is occurring to affect treatment quality. Medication errors are often a serious problem and hospitals should be more honest with their patients - even if they could face a medical malpractice lawsuit as a result.

Source: Chicago Tribune, "Patients rarely told about medication errors," Andrew M. Seaman, Jan. 11, 2013

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