These words were apparently uttered by legendary college football coach, Paul W. “Bear” Bryant. While the advice is applicable to just about any person or subject matter, a recent federal government report shows that U.S. hospitals are in dire need of a reminder.
According to a Department of Health and Human Services study, hospitals are failing to document their medical errors. The study, an examination of Medicare patients’ records, found that hospital staff failed to report 86 percent of “adverse events,” (harm done to patients as a result of medical care) to their respective internal incident reporting systems.
This systematic failure of hospitals is worrying in a number of ways.
Due to the severe underreporting of incidents, the number of actual injuries and deaths from medical errors is probably significantly higher than the oft-quoted estimate, 98,000 deaths annually, reported by an Institute of Medicine report over a decade ago.
Failure to acknowledge medical errors probably also means that hospitals are failing to give victims of medical errors critical information about what caused their injuries. Consequently, hospitals and their staffs are evading accountability for their actions. That is, hospitals are likely failing to acknowledge and compensate patients for injuries caused by errors, particularly preventable ones. And medical providers are not appropriately disciplined for these errors.
Moreover, hospital staffs are likely committing the same errors repeatedly because, if they fail to acknowledge the existence of errors, then they are also failing to change their policies and practices to prevent similar future errors. In fact, the study found that only five reported incidents led to policy or practice changes at a hospital. Quite succinctly, these findings reflect the perilous conditions for patients in hospitals.