1 in 5 Americans reports experiencing medical errors

Roughly 21 percent of adults in America have personally experienced medical errors, according to a national survey conducted by the IHI/NPSF Lucian Leape Institute and NORC at the University of Chicago.

Medical errors can impact a patient’s health, finances and relationships. Researchers conducted a national survey of more than 2,500 adults to gauge experiences with medical errors and how they impacted future outcomes.

"Studies have looked at the physical and financial hardships associated with medical errors. This new survey is notable for highlighting how medical harm impacts emotional health and family relationships," said Linda K. Kenney, president of Medically Induced Trauma Support Services. "I think one of the most valuable findings is the degree to which patients are willing, and expect, to be involved in their care. The fact that many people who experienced an error spoke up about it confirms that patients and families are vital to informing health care organizations about harm and how to prevent it in the future."

Findings included:

  • 31 percent of respondents reported knowing someone who had experienced medical error.
  • Ambulatory settings were the most common place for error occurrence.
  • Errors related to diagnosis and patient-provider communication were the most common.
  • Almost 50 percent of respondents who believed an error had occurred mentioned it to medical personnel.
  • Most respondents believed patients and families have some role to play in medical errors.
  • Respondents reported an average of seven factors that resulted in medical errors that they have experienced.
  • Eight out of 10 respondents believed patient safety is the responsibility of healthcare providers.

"The survey results show that Americans recognize that patient safety is a critically important, but complex, issue," said Tejal K. Gandhi, MD, MPH, president of the IHI/NPSF Lucian Leape Institute. "The focus on diagnostic errors and the outpatient settings closely parallels other research in this area and confirms that health care improvers need to take a systems approach to safety that encompasses all settings of care, not just hospitals."