June 17, 2011

Are You Safe in Your Doctor’s Office?

(Ivanhoe Newswire) -- Patient safety in hospitals is a well-known issue that has received much attention in the last few years. However, a new study shows many adverse events, including injury and death, also occur in private doctor's offices.

Researchers from Weill Cornell Medical College used malpractice claims data to assess the prevalence of adverse events in outpatient settings. They found the number and magnitude of events resulting from medical errors was similar to what was observed inside and outside hospital walls.

"Physician practices have not been the focus of patient safety research, much less of policy efforts to reduce medical error," Dr. Tara Bishop, lead author of the new study and assistant professor of public health and medicine at Weill Cornell Medical College and a practicing physician at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center, was quoted as saying.

In 2009, nearly 11,000 malpractice payments were made on behalf of doctors. About half of those were for errors that occurred in the hospital setting, and the other half were for adverse events resulting from errors at doctors' offices.

The investigators found adverse events in the outpatient setting were more commonly related to diagnosis errors while adverse events in the hospital setting were more commonly related to unsuccessful surgery. However, the researchers say surgical procedures are increasingly taking place in doctors' offices, so they, too, are occurring with greater frequency.

"The problems associated with outpatient safety may not be easy to fix, but the adoption of electronic health records is already improving communication between doctors," Dr. Bishop said. "Patient safety is likely to improve markedly as more and more doctors' offices change the way their records are kept, updated and accessed."

SOURCE: JAMA, June, 2011