Collaborative efforts key to medical error data collection

Adjustments on how the healthcare industry collects data on medical errors, especially those that lead to patient death, must be a "collaborative effort," Institute for Healthcare Improvement (IHI) Vice President Frank Federico tells FierceHealthcare in an exclusive interview.

"It will require a culture change and a willingness to be transparent," Federico, pictured, said Wednesday in the wake of a new study that finds medical errors are the third leading cause of death in the U.S. Only heart disease and cancer kill more, according to the study published in the British Medical Journal.

RELATED: Medical errors officially the third leading cause of death in U.S., study finds

"The purpose here isn't to develop a system to identify and blame individuals but to look at the number of mortalities and to look at the system causes that are contributing to that," he said.

The study team said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) billing codes do not currently note on death certificates whether medical errors contributed to a patient's death, skewing the data. Bob Anderson, chief of the mortality statistics branch for the CDC, disputed the findings in an interview with National Public Radio (NPR), saying that medical errors or complications are listed on death certificates and are included in the coding process.

A better strategy to help doctors report medical errors would be more beneficial than simply listing the information on a death certificate, Anderson told NPR. "This is a public health issue, and they need to report it for the sake of public health," he said.

Federico said IHI supports the idea of better ways to report this data, especially if it makes the information clearer for patients. Though the study authors cautioned that patients should not see the findings as the result of inherently bad doctors, he said it is easy for the public to come away with that impression.

The key, Federico said, is being as open and honest as possible when engaging with them. "If I'm a patient and I've been hurt, if you come back and tell me it's a 'systems issue,' I don't know what that means," he said. "It feels like you're trying to avoid telling me the truth."

Dealing with these two separate cases--systemic failures versus individual malpractice--is important when coming up with solutions to reduce mortality rates, Federico said, as each will need to be handled and investigated differently.

To learn more:
- check out IHI's initiatives for reducing mortality rates (part one and two)
- read the NPR article

Related Articles:
Medical errors officially the third leading cause of death in U.S., study finds
How hospitals' 'culture of secrecy' keeps error victims out of the loop
Medical errors can take a toll on doctors
Medical errors: Hospitals often drop the ball with dementia patients
Medical errors don't necessarily mean lawsuits: Patients want apologies, explanations