Ongoing feedback may help reduce medical errors

Team of doctors talking
A hospital.

If hospitals want to continue to improve their safety records, leaders should make sure there is a process in place for clinicians to freely report and discuss medical errors after they occur

One study finds medical errors are the third leading cause of death in the U.S., behind only heart disease and cancer. The provider community has come under significant pressure to cut those numbers, with many saying hospitals and other providers must become more transparent about adverse events and take steps to report them when they happen and then find ways to prevent them. 

That's the conclusion of a new study by St. Jude's Children's Research Hospital published this week in the Journal of Patient Safety. Of particular importance was not only open communication, but giving employees feedback on how their previous reporting improved hospital safety.

The researchers examined data specific to 223,412 healthcare professionals working at 967 hospitals supplied by the U.S. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. Many of those employees were also surveyed regarding their thoughts on 10 factors shown to reflect and influence the culture of patient safety.

The respondents said that providing feedback about reporting errors was the most likely way to get employees to report errors voluntarily, no matter their severity. Survey respondents were also more likely to report if they believed the hospital would try and prevent future errors by improving processes as opposed to placing blame.

“Our results suggest that to increase voluntary reporting of all types of errors and patient safety events, regardless of the perceived severity, healthcare leaders should prioritize establishing feedback mechanisms that demonstrate to staff the value of information learned from the events reported,” said James Hoffman, an associate member of the St. Jude department of pharmaceutical sciences and the hospital’s chief patient safety officer, in a statement.