This page has been superceded by the page Nequamitis
Errors is the wrong term. Whichever side of the equation you are on, "Errors" is a problematic term that holds back the discussion and should be abandoned right now. For more on that see Nequamitis.
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That aside, for yet more of what people on the web repeat about them, according to a national poll conducted by the National Patient Safety Foundation:
Forty-two percent of respondents had been affected by a medical error, either personally or through a friend or relative.
Thirty-two percent of the respondents indicated that the error had a permanent negative effect on the patient's health.
According to the Journal of the America Medical Association (footnoted here):
Serious adverse drug reactions and fatal drug reactions are the fourth and sixth leading cause of death in hospitalized patients in the USA.
That is just the beginning of the statistics and they are only statistics about errors, not all of the things that are not errors. The patient safety debate is being limited by the term. No one asks darker questions. A great deal of attention is spent making sure that feathers are not ruffled. Reputations must be protected. Operators must not be blamed. Is the assumption that making clincians feel safe will cause them to behave better? It doesn't work that way in other fields.
It is great for people to be working so hard to find the causes of errors. But can we really expect to make progress in eliminating errors in an arena where we cannot even discover, investigate or punish criminal activity? However rare crime might be in medicine (and there is no legitimate reason to believe it is any less rare there than in the population in general), having systems in place that can address unfriendly practices, including abuse and violence against patients, is the rock bottom foundation of patient safety, but it is not part of the discussion. It is difficult to view as credibile efforts made by people purporting to be interested in the safety of patients when they do not understand even the need to protect them from predators.
When hospital administrators, physicians, nurses, anesthesiologists, orderlies and all the other personnel in healthcare will not even report drunken and/or libidinous and/or criminal behavior in healthcare (see loyalty), even when lives are lost or ruined as a result, can they be reliable reporters of anything else?
I applaud all efforts to reduce errors and create a culture of safety, but fundamental problems are being ignored when all that is discussed is errors.