Massachusetts Sees Substantial Rise in Reported Medical Errors

medical errors
Photo credit: National Cancer Institute

The incidence of medical errors at hospitals is on the rise in Massachusetts.  In 2015, Massachusetts hospitals and ambulatory surgical centers disclosed 1,313 “serious reportable events” or errors that either harmed or threatened a patient, according to the Massachusetts Department of Public Health and as reported in the Boston Globe.  In 2014, there were 831 reported events.  The Massachusetts Department of Public Health releases annual reports on the “serious reportable events” in hospitals and ambulatory surgical centers.  In Massachusetts, a “serious reportable event” is an event that results in a serious adverse patient outcome that is clearly identifiable, measurable, and reasonably preventable.  See Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 111 § 51H.

In 2015, the 1,313 serious reportable events included, but were not limited to:

  • The wrong surgery or surgical procedure performed on a patient (26 reported cases);
  • Medication errors that harmed or killed a patient (51 reported cases);
  • Unintended retention of a foreign object (36 reported cases);
  • Serious injury or death from a burn (30 reported cases);
  • Contaminated drugs, medical devices, or biologics [i.e. vaccines, tissue transplants] (446 reported cases).

The key findings for hospitals were that the two most common errors were pressure ulcers and falls and that fractures were the most common serious injury.

The vast majority of the reported errors occurred at hospitals.  Ambulatory surgical centers did not report many errors.  The biggest rise in reported events was at the dialysis unit at Baystate Medical Center in Springfield. State inspectors found unsanitary conditions that raised the risk of contamination and the exposure of patients to infection from blood-borne diseases.

The Department of Public Health’s report is useful for gauging the prevalence of medical errors in certain settings and overall trends in medical errors and their reporting.  The data is also limited by several factors.  First, the data is only from hospitals and surgical centers.  Doctor’s offices and nursing homes are not included.  Second, the Department of Public Health relies heavily on self-reporting by hospitals.  Some hospitals may be very effective at identifying errors, reporting them, and addressing those errors, while other facilities fail to identify the error and nothing is reported even though the hospitals could have similar serious reportable events leading to underreporting.  Third, the reporting from ambulatory surgical centers is very low given the volume of patients at those facilities, suggesting underreporting of serious reportable events.  Hopefully, in time, the identification of serious reportable events becomes commonplace and the prevalence of these events declines.

In the unfortunate event that you or a loved one suffers an injury, feel free to contact the attorneys at Decof, Decof & Barry, P.C. to discuss your case.  We have decades of experience reaching successful results for injured persons and their families in a broad range of personal injury cases, including medical errors.

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