A New York Times report has revealed that only one out of seven medical errors and accidents involving Medicare patients is reported by hospital employees. If that wasn’t bad enough, even when a medical facility investigates a reported medical error injury, the facility rarely changes its practice to prevent the error from occurring again, according to foxnews.com.

Some of the medical errors the report mentioned included severe bedsores, infections acquired while patients stayed in a hospital, excessive bleeding from improper use of blood thinners and adverse effects from being given too many painkillers. Even some medical errors that led to a patient’s death were not reported.

I just shook my head while reading about this. It’s infuriating to know that many innocent patients who are probably already in pain from whatever caused them to go to the hospital had that pain exacerbated by preventable medical errors. A hospital should be a sanctuary for healing, not a haven for haphazard treatment and negligence.

What’s even more disturbing is that since most medical errors are not reported, we don’t even know the full scope of the problem. Plus, the lack of transparency means the unacceptable status quo is allowed to persist since no one can be sure what refoms are needed.

Dr. Manny Alvarez, the senior managing health editor for the Fox News website, declared that “medical mistakes are one of the biggest problems we have in health care today.” He went on to say that “we’re beginning to see that with more monitoring, we are identifying more problems. The issue however, is that you have to learn from mistakes — and there are still many doctors and hospitals that do not do that.”

Fundamental changes to how preventable medical errors are reported in hospitals are needed. Allowing six out of seven medical mistakes to go unreported is simply unacceptable. The reforms necessary will probably need to come either from state regulators or the federal government. There probably needs to be some sort of civil or criminal penalty associated with failing to report a blatant medical error and penalties for not executing a plan to correct the error in the future. 

To learn more about medical errors, take a look at this article, which was the second in a series written by an experienced medical malpractice attorney in Virginia.