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Study: Hospital staff should be encouraged to report errors

It's understandable that medical professionals may be hesitant to report errors for fear of disciplinary action by their employers, as well as potential liability. However, a study by St. Jude's Children's Research Hospital found that by reporting so-called patient safety events, hospital staff can improve patient care and safety in the future.

Patient safety events are any errors that could potentially harm a patient, whether a patient was actually harmed or not. Hospitals, according to those involved in the analysis, should encourage staff members to voluntarily report such events, create a process for such reporting and make sure employees know just how vital that reporting is.

The study, which involved over 223,000 medical professionals at almost 1,000 hospitals, found that they were more likely to report these safety events, regardless of their seriousness, if they knew the information would be used to improve systems and help prevent future errors rather than be used against them.

One of the study's authors, who is St. Jude's chief patient safety officer, said that hospital management can increase the level of reporting by such simple things as thanking staff members for taking the time to report these errors and letting them know what actions are being taken to improve processes as a result.

Earlier research into error reporting found that the more serious an error is, the more likely it is to be reported. However, reporting of errors (even those caught before they could impact a patient) can help improve patient safety.

It would be understandable that some hospitals may hesitate to encourage such reporting, for fear that it could provide evidence that could be used against them in court. However, if errors can be reported and steps can be taken to prevent them in the future, hospitals can help reduce the chances of a serious or fatal injury that could lead to a medical malpractice action.

Source: Claims Journal, "Hospital Feedback After Staff Report Errors Offer Patient Safety Benefits," Nov. 03, 2016

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