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Medical Error Reports Only Track Most Serious Problems

Indiana hospital bed

Each year, the Indiana Department of Health releases a list of medical errors for every hospital in the state, but this list is only a glimpse into how health clinics track complications and errors.

For the nearly 300 hospitals, ambulatory surgery centers, abortion clinics, and birthing centers in the state of Indiana, the Department of Health’s annual medical errors report lists only 100 medical errors for all of 2011.

If these numbers seem low, that is in part because the Indiana Medical Error Reporting System only tracks the most serious problems that lead to death or disability.

“Those events have to fit a very specific set of definitions,” says Betsy Lee, who  directs the Indiana Hospital Association’s Patient Safety Center. “So they’re actually meant to be rare events, and they’re not meant to capture all of the things that might happen in a hospital related to complications and/or errors.”

Hospitals can be fined $10,000 or have their licenses revoked if they don’t report errors, but there is no mechanism for disclosing errors not on the list.

Bloomington Hospital reported zero adverse events to the Department of Health last year, but that’s not because nothing bad unexpectedly happened to patients.

The hospital’s Director of Performance Excellence LeAnne Horn says officials track errors that do not make the Department of Health’s list, such as falls, bedsores and near-misses. But she says state law only requires the 28 events on the list be reported.

The Indiana Patient Safety Center website says one third of patients admitted to a hospital experience an adverse event, based on information in a 2011 study. Lee says such estimates may change depending on how health researchers and hospitals measure harm.

“What we know is that the impact of harm to patients and families is large, and we’re doing everything we can to organize ourselves in the state of Indiana to prevent harm and readmission,” Lee says.

The Indiana Hospital Association is working with 119 hospitals, including Bloomington Hospital, in a statewide initiative known as the Coalition for Care. Its goal is to reduce patient harm by 40 percent and readmissions by 20 percent by the end of 2013.

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