Medical errors concern most of public, study says

Hospital-based medication, surgical and diagnostic errors are of concern to most Americans, according to the results of a new Harris Interactive poll of 2,847 U.S. adults.

Three in five Americans (63%) are "extremely concerned" (39%) or "very concerned" (24%) about hospital-based medication errors, such as receiving the wrong medication or the wrong dose, and 55% are concerned about hospital-based surgical errors that might include incorrect amputations or mistaken patient identities — 39% are "extremely concerned," and 16% are "very concerned."

The public is only moderately confident about the ability of U.S. hospitals to prevent these types of errors, explains Katherine Binns, senior vice president of health care at Harris Interactive in Rochester, NY. While one in three adults (33%) believe hospitals do an "excellent" or "very good" job preventing medication errors, nearly equal proportions (28%) believe hospitals do a "fair" or "poor" job. Likewise, one in three adults (30%) believe that hospitals do an "excellent" or "very good" job preventing diagnostic errors, but an equally large proportion believes they do a "fair" or "poor" job (29%).

The public is somewhat more confident about hospitals’ abilities when it comes to preventing surgical errors; 42% believe they do an "excellent" or "very good" job. New procedures instituted in July to prevent surgical errors include double-checking patients’ identities and using standardized procedures for marking patients’ bodies in preparation for surgery. Most Americans think these new procedures will be effective — 15% "extremely effective," 43% "very effective," and 36% "somewhat effective" in preventing future errors.

"These findings suggest that efforts by the Institute of Medicine and others to increase public awareness of patient safety issues are hitting home with the American public," Binns says. "Public concern about medical, surgical and diagnostic errors is high; and many have doubts about the ability of our medical institutions to prevent these types of errors. On the bright side, most adults also are confident that initiatives like the recently enacted hospital standards to help prevent surgical errors will prove to be effective in advancing patient safety."