Hospital records often miss family-reported medical errors

Nearly half of family-reported errors aren’t documented in hospital medical records, according to a new study that asked parents of hospitalized children about mistakes and adverse events.

The study, published this week in JAMA Pediatrics, found that when hospitals included families in systematic surveillance, overall error detection rates increased by 16% and adverse error detection rates by 10%.

“Our results suggest that whether we are talking about safety surveillance research or operational hospital quality improvement and safety tracking efforts, families should be included in safety reporting,” lead study author Alisa Khan, M.D., a researcher at Harvard Medical School and Boston Children’s Hospital, told Reuters.

Researchers analyzed survey data of 717 parents of children and teenagers who were hospitalized between December 2014 and July 2015 in four U.S. pediatric centers. The study team asked parents, doctors and nurses about mistakes and adverse events and then looked at the patients’ medical records and formal hospital incident reports.

Parents, doctors and nurses reported similar rates of errors and adverse events. But family-reported error rates and adverse error rates were higher than hospital incident report rates.

Indeed, 49% of family-reported errors and 24% of family-reported adverse events were not documented in the medical record.

The family reports also included eight otherwise unidentified adverse events, such as multiple needle sticks and medication side effects.

Irini Kolaitis, a researcher at the Ann and Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago and Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, who wasn’t involved in the study, told Reuters that the key takeaway from the study is that both clinicians and family members recognize medical errors and adverse events, but hospital reporting systems lag behind.