Hospital errors impact many families in Massachusetts every day. Although some hospital errors are minor, other errors such as medication mistakes can result in the incapacitation or wrongful death of a patient.

A study published in the April issue of Health Affairs uses a new method of measuring hospital errors and shows that hospital errors are up to 10 times more common than previously thought. This statistic may cause some patients to worry about suffering from medical malpractice but does not discourage medical researchers who believe that reporting errors is the first step in providing better care.

USA Today reports that researchers used a new method called the “Global Trigger Tool” to review hospital records. The Global Trigger Tool is 90 percent more effective than the methods recommended by the U.S. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. When researchers applied both methods to approximately 800 records, the Global Trigger Tool found 354 errors while the AHRQ methods only uncovered 34 errors.

“There is a large opportunity for improvement, despite all the work that’s been done,” a researcher said. “And we need better measurement systems to assess how we are doing in patient safety.”

The researchers also note that the errors are based on medical records, which are not as accurate as real-time observation. Therefore the error rate is a conservative estimate. The researchers are also not surprised by the increased amount of errors detected.

“It’s not a surprise that a method based on careful chart abstraction by knowledgeable reviewers would do a much better job in tracking adverse events,” a researcher said.

The most common errors identified in the report were medication errors, followed by surgery errors.

“These are the areas where we have always found problems,” a researcher said. “Obviously, we still have a lot of room for improvement.”

Source: USA Today, “Report: Hospital errors more common than suspected,” Steven Reinberg, 4/8/11