Last week I read a story that mentioned a study that came to this conclusion: Only 14% Of Medical Errors Reported By Hospitals. It's an alarming story, one that undoubtedly is true, but it's the kind of story that leads to hysteria instead of understanding.

Overall, the question comes down to what constitutes an error. For instance, leaving a sponge in a patient after a surgery is definitely an error. Not changing the top sheet between patients in the emergency room is nasty, but that's not considered an error, although OSHA would be all over it if they knew about it.

The standard for reporting errors comes down to what's known as "medical harm". That's kind of a questionable standard because one could say that the act of a medical professional not washing their hands, thus setting up the possibility of viruses and germs spreading, is medical harm, but that's not a reportable offense. When I had an issue with some of the care my grandmother "wasn't" getting while she was an inpatient at the hospital last May I knew that some of what I saw as deficient wasn't reportable officially either, though I did take it to a hospital representative as a complaint.

There are always standards for what's reportable and what's not. Even the story linked to leans toward the fact that hospitals aren't reporting everything because they don't have to. This kind of goes across the board by the way. There are things not reported as it pertains to almost every department in a hospital that end up being errors, yet not officially reportable errors. Heck, there are lots of billing errors every day, yet very few would be considered serious enough to report to anyone.

Strangely enough, we probably should be happy for some of this. Imagine being a hospital employee worrying that you're going to make mistakes every time you do a procedure. That's the type of thing that breeds mistakes, when people are scared to make them. Incompetence is one thing, slight errors that don't lead directly to patient harm are tolerable. We might not like them but we have to be thankful that patients are fine.

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