Why Don’t Patients Report the Harm Caused by Medical Errors?

by Patrick Malone & Associates P.C. | DC Injury Lawyers

According to ProPublica, the nonprofit investigative journalism organization, "A review of medical records by the U.S. Health and Human Services Department's inspector general found that in a single month 1 in 7 Medicare patients was harmed in the hospital, or roughly 134,000 people. … An estimated 1.5 percent of Medicare beneficiaries experienced an event that contributed to their deaths ... which projects to 15,000 patients in a single month."

So why, then, are patients so reluctant to report medical errors? In reviewing nearly 200 stories ProPublica has collected via its Patient Harm Questionnaire, the writer learned that many of the contributors—people who have suffered harm while undergoing medical care—don’t file formal complaints with regulators. The reasons range from being traumatized, disabled, unclear about the bureaucratic process of complaint and, remarkably, unaware that they’ve been a victim of a medical error.

That’s not good for them or anybody who has or will avail themselves of the U.S. health-care system—in other words, it’s bad for everybody.

When harmed people don’t complain, as ProPublica notes, there is no independent investigation, no outside accountability for providers who may have made mistakes, no public inspection report that documents the problems and, one hopes, prompts solutions and avoids repeated mistakes.

Of course, the latter point assumes that an agency receiving a complaint and pursuing it makes its report public. That isn’t always the case.

There’s no central system to tally and track adverse medical events. “There’s no way to know,” according to ProPublica, “when and where patients are being harmed or to tell if the problem is worse in one place than another.”

What’s taking so long? At the turn of this century the Institute of Medicine’s landmark “To Err Is Human” report recommended a national system to record cases of serious harm to patients or death to provide accountability, expand the body of medical knowledge and to save lives.

Even though in many states hospitals are required to file reports when patients suffer unexpected harm—called “sentinel” or “adverse” events—federal officials say such state efforts are lacking. In July, the Department of Health and Human Services found that only 12 in 100 harmful events identified by its inspector general’s office even met state requirements for reporting them. Hospitals reported only 1 in 100 harmful events.

As we reported last month, when hospitals accept responsibility for harming patients, good things happen in terms of reducing costs and improving care.

The bleak scenario of under-reporting might be redrawn in the not too distant future.

The federal Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) is inviting the public to submit comments about a proposed program to encourage consumers to complain about harm suffered while undergoing medical care.

By collecting information in a common format, the agency hopes to develop ways to gather information by phone and via the Internet and to follow up with a questionnaire for medical providers. Patients will be asked what happened, who was involved and for permission to contact their medical providers involved in the event. Official public comment is due Nov. 9; you can also submit comments directly to Doris Lefkowitz, the AHRQ reports clearance officer, at doris.lefkowitz@AHRQ.hhs.gov.

One member of ProPublica’s Patient Harm Facebook group explained why so few of the people like her pursue complaints about their care. She said emotional trauma, physical disability, feeling intimidated by providers and social pressure not to complain conspire against airing grievances. She said that a passive questionnaire is unlikely to elicit responses and suggested instead that patient harm information be gathered like the national survey given to recently discharged hospital patients. Its results are publicly reported on Hospital Compare, a site composed of data collected by HHS from all Medicare-certified hospitals that’s intended to help medical consumers find hospitals and compare their quality of care.

Other ways you can report harm while undergoing medical treatment include:

  • Contact a state professional licensing agency that monitors doctors or nurses. Find your state’s agencies here.
  • Contact the Joint Commission, which accredits hospitals.
  • Contact a Medicare Quality Improvement Organization. These agencies work with consumers, physicians, hospitals and other caregivers to make sure patients get the right care at the right time, particularly among underserved populations.


DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

© Patrick Malone & Associates P.C. | DC Injury Lawyers | Attorney Advertising

Written by:

Patrick Malone & Associates P.C. | DC Injury Lawyers

Patrick Malone & Associates P.C. | DC Injury Lawyers on:

Readers' Choice 2017
Reporters on Deadline

"My best business intelligence, in one easy email…"

Your first step to building a free, personalized, morning email brief covering pertinent authors and topics on JD Supra:
Sign up using*

Already signed up? Log in here

*By using the service, you signify your acceptance of JD Supra's Privacy Policy.
Custom Email Digest
Privacy Policy (Updated: October 8, 2015):

JD Supra provides users with access to its legal industry publishing services (the "Service") through its website (the "Website") as well as through other sources. Our policies with regard to data collection and use of personal information of users of the Service, regardless of the manner in which users access the Service, and visitors to the Website are set forth in this statement ("Policy"). By using the Service, you signify your acceptance of this Policy.

Information Collection and Use by JD Supra

JD Supra collects users' names, companies, titles, e-mail address and industry. JD Supra also tracks the pages that users visit, logs IP addresses and aggregates non-personally identifiable user data and browser type. This data is gathered using cookies and other technologies.

The information and data collected is used to authenticate users and to send notifications relating to the Service, including email alerts to which users have subscribed; to manage the Service and Website, to improve the Service and to customize the user's experience. This information is also provided to the authors of the content to give them insight into their readership and help them to improve their content, so that it is most useful for our users.

JD Supra does not sell, rent or otherwise provide your details to third parties, other than to the authors of the content on JD Supra.

If you prefer not to enable cookies, you may change your browser settings to disable cookies; however, please note that rejecting cookies while visiting the Website may result in certain parts of the Website not operating correctly or as efficiently as if cookies were allowed.

Email Choice/Opt-out

Users who opt in to receive emails may choose to no longer receive e-mail updates and newsletters by selecting the "opt-out of future email" option in the email they receive from JD Supra or in their JD Supra account management screen.


JD Supra takes reasonable precautions to insure that user information is kept private. We restrict access to user information to those individuals who reasonably need access to perform their job functions, such as our third party email service, customer service personnel and technical staff. However, please note that no method of transmitting or storing data is completely secure and we cannot guarantee the security of user information. Unauthorized entry or use, hardware or software failure, and other factors may compromise the security of user information at any time.

If you have reason to believe that your interaction with us is no longer secure, you must immediately notify us of the problem by contacting us at info@jdsupra.com. In the unlikely event that we believe that the security of your user information in our possession or control may have been compromised, we may seek to notify you of that development and, if so, will endeavor to do so as promptly as practicable under the circumstances.

Sharing and Disclosure of Information JD Supra Collects

Except as otherwise described in this privacy statement, JD Supra will not disclose personal information to any third party unless we believe that disclosure is necessary to: (1) comply with applicable laws; (2) respond to governmental inquiries or requests; (3) comply with valid legal process; (4) protect the rights, privacy, safety or property of JD Supra, users of the Service, Website visitors or the public; (5) permit us to pursue available remedies or limit the damages that we may sustain; and (6) enforce our Terms & Conditions of Use.

In the event there is a change in the corporate structure of JD Supra such as, but not limited to, merger, consolidation, sale, liquidation or transfer of substantial assets, JD Supra may, in its sole discretion, transfer, sell or assign information collected on and through the Service to one or more affiliated or unaffiliated third parties.

Links to Other Websites

This Website and the Service may contain links to other websites. The operator of such other websites may collect information about you, including through cookies or other technologies. If you are using the Service through the Website and link to another site, you will leave the Website and this Policy will not apply to your use of and activity on those other sites. We encourage you to read the legal notices posted on those sites, including their privacy policies. We shall have no responsibility or liability for your visitation to, and the data collection and use practices of, such other sites. This Policy applies solely to the information collected in connection with your use of this Website and does not apply to any practices conducted offline or in connection with any other websites.

Changes in Our Privacy Policy

We reserve the right to change this Policy at any time. Please refer to the date at the top of this page to determine when this Policy was last revised. Any changes to our privacy policy will become effective upon posting of the revised policy on the Website. By continuing to use the Service or Website following such changes, you will be deemed to have agreed to such changes. If you do not agree with the terms of this Policy, as it may be amended from time to time, in whole or part, please do not continue using the Service or the Website.

Contacting JD Supra

If you have any questions about this privacy statement, the practices of this site, your dealings with this Web site, or if you would like to change any of the information you have provided to us, please contact us at: info@jdsupra.com.

- hide
*With LinkedIn, you don't need to create a separate login to manage your free JD Supra account, and we can make suggestions based on your needs and interests. We will not post anything on LinkedIn in your name. Or, sign up using your email address.