A recent article published by the Harvard School of Public Health, based on a study commissioned by the Betsy Lehman Center for Patient Safety and Medical Error Reduction, sheds some light on how the citizens of Massachusetts perceive and feel about medical error in that state.

The study’s authors conducted a statewide telephone public opinion poll of 1,224 Massachusetts adults. The poll results revealed that 23% of respondents had been personally involved in a situation where they or a loved one were the victim of a preventable medical error. Of those, roughly half reported that the medical error resulted in serious health consequences. The most common form of medical error reported involved misdiagnosis of a problem or condition. 54% of those involved in a medical error had reported the error to someone, most commonly to a health professional where the error occurred. The most frequent reason given for why people chose to report the error was to prevent the same error from happening to someone else. The most common reason given by those who chose not to report the error was that they field it would not do any good to report it.

The poll also revealed that the majority of persons surveyed did not seek information about patient safety when selecting a hospital or physician. Additionally, only 35% of those surveyed felt that medical errors are a serious problem in Massachusetts, and there was no consensus among respondents as to whether or not medical errors have been increasing or decreasing over the last five years. The respondents did overwhelmingly support greater transparency with regard to medical errors. More than 90% of respondents felt that hospitals, doctors and nursing homes should be required to report medical errors to the state and tell patients when a medical error is made. 94% of respondents also felt that the public should be able to find out the number and type of medical errors made by hospitals and doctors.

Based upon this data, the authors of the study concluded that medical errors are a problem in Massachusetts, but that more public discussion and media attention will be necessary before changes in both transparency and patient safety precautions will occur.

As seems to be the case in Massachusetts, medical errors occur in Pennsylvania and elsewhere at a fairly alarming rate. Unfortunately, many of these errors are preventable and many go unreported. You may recall that I recently blogged about a New England Journal of Medicine study that suggested that more than half of physicians surveyed in that study had identified at least one medical error by one of their colleagues in the previous year. If you believe that you or a loved one has suffered a health complication because of a medical error, and you are uncomfortable speaking to the hospital or healthcare provider about it, the medical malpractice attorneys at Stark & Stark may be able to help.