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Medical Errors Affect One-fifth Of All Americans: Report

New research suggests that medical mistakes cause adverse events for about one out of every five American adults. 

Researchers with the Institute for Healthcare Improvement and the National Opinion Research Center (NORC) at the University of Chicago have published the findings of a survey (PDF) recently, which highlights the wide-reaching impact of errors during medical treatment, which often result in long-term health consequences.

NORC surveyed more than 2,500 adults nationwide from May 12 through June 16 of this year. According to the findings, 21 percent of U.S. adults say they personally experienced a medical error.

In addition, 31 percent said they knew someone whose care they were personally involved with who experienced a medical error as well. But the study found that less than half of those who felt there had been a medical mistake then brought it to the attention of healthcare professionals at the facility where it occurred.

Most of those surveyed said that patients and family have a role to play in patient safety, although health care providers were considered primarily responsible.

“The survey results show that Americans recognize that patient safety is a critically important, but complex, issue,” Dr. Tejal K. Gandhi, Chief Clinical and Safety Officer, IHI, and President of the IHI/NPSF Lucian Leape Institute, said in the press release. “The focus on diagnostic errors and the outpatient settings closely parallels other research in this area and confirms that health care improvers need to take a systems approach to safety that encompasses all settings of care, not just hospitals.”

The study also found that the majority of medical errors occurred in outpatient settings, and that medical misdiagnosis and failures in communication between healthcare professionals and patients are the most common causes. Nearly 60% of those who say they had an experience with a medical error cited misdiagnosis, delayed diagnosis, or a failure to diagnose as the problem.

Most of those surveyed felt that the healthcare system was generally safe and that care, overall, was improving, according to the findings.

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