Federal Agency Proposes a Centralized System for Reporting Medical Errors


Currently, there is no centralized system to report hospital or medical malpractice, and research indicates that reporting rates are very low. The federal Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) has proposed a new, centralized system for consumers to file complaints about harm suffered while receiving medical care.

Information About Reporting Rates for Medical Errors

Because no centralized complaint agency exists for reporting medical malpractice, accurate statistics about the medical error rates in the United States are difficult to come by. A 2010 review of medical records by the inspector general of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) revealed that about 134,000 Medicare patients were harmed in the hospital in a single month. Another HHS report revealed that hospitals report only about 1 percent of adverse medical events they are required by state law to register. The report went on to state that the low percentage is most likely due to hospitals’ failure to identify medical errors that occur in their facilities, as opposed to failure to report known medical errors.

In short, available data suggest that hospital error reporting does not accurately reflect the number of hospital errors that actually occur. The data also suggest that one reason for low reporting may be that hospitals do not have accurate systems in place to identify adverse medical events resulting from medical negligence or medical malpractice.

Why Are Hospital Errors and Medical Malpractice Incidents Rarely Reported?

Hospitals may need to improve their reporting procedures if hospital error data are to more accurately reflect reality. There are other reasons for low reporting rates, as well. Patients who suffer from hospital errors may be too traumatized to make the report, they may be focusing on other aspects of their lives after a disabling medical error, or they may find the current reporting bureaucracy too complex to navigate. Without a centralized reporting system, patients and their families must choose from several different complaint options:

  • The state medical professional licensing board
  • The state public health department
  • The Joint Commission, which accredits hospitals
  • A Medicare Quality Improvement Organization

These different agencies do not have procedures in place to communicate complaints among one another, and no agency collects accumulated data from all agencies into a centralized location.

Summary of the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality’s Proposed Program

The AHRQ’s proposal is to design a prototype system to collect information about patient harm events, to test telephone and internet patient questionnaires, and to test follow-up surveys of health care providers after a report of hospital error.

You can visit the Federal Register website for information about commenting on the AHRQ’s medical error complaint prototype system.

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