Study found mistake rate of 50% in urban hospital

An independent study of a large urban hospital in Chicago reported in the Feb. 1 issue ofThe Lancet found that errors occurred in the care of nearly half the patients.

Observers who spent nine months on three surgical units found that more than one of six patients experienced a serious medical error that caused harm ranging from temporary disability to death. The hospital was not identified.

The study was conducted by four anthropologists who followed medical residents and attended rounds, nursing shift-changes, and meetings during which patient care was discussed. Although they recorded all adverse events and medical errors discussed, the researchers said their findings were almost certainly underestimated because not every medical error was discussed in the meetings they attended.

The anthropologists studied care in two surgical intensive-care units and a surgical ward at an unnamed urban teaching hospital. Of the 1,047 patients treated during the study, 185 or 18% supposedly experienced at least one serious mistake that lengthened their hospital stays and increased medical costs.

The errors ranged from misplaced test results and failure to update a patient’s chart to unnecessary surgery and failure to consider food allergies. The team said the highest proportion of mistakes occurred in the monitoring and care following surgery.