Massachusetts acute-care hospitals reported 753 serious medical errors last year, a 70% increase from the year prior and adverse events in other types of hospital facilities rose 60% since 2012.
Hospitals reported a higher incidence of serious bed sores, assaults, patient falls, and suicides or attempted suicides. In the case of suicides or self-harm resulting in serious injury, records show that this rate rose from one case in 2011, to 12 in 2012, and to 22 in 2013. A majority of these events occurred in patients admitted to psychiatric units or emergency departments after overdosing on pills or inflicting self-mutilation.
The largest jumps in medical errors were seen in procedures done on the wrong body part, burns from operating room fires or overly hot heating packs, and contaminated drugs or improperly sterilized equipment.
Since 2008, Massachusetts hospitals have been required to notify the state’s health department in the event of a serious medical error. The rule was instituted in an attempt to help hospital administrators and regulators better understand errors and how to prevent them. Errors must also be reported to patients and their families.
At the end of 2012, the criterion for what needed to be reported was changed, which may have contributed to the large jump in reported errors.
Prior to October 2012, hospitals were required to report errors that left a patient was a serious disability. Currently, Massachusetts hospitals must report any serious injury as well as death or injury resulting from “failure to follow up or communicate laboratory, pathology, or radiology test results.”
The Massachusetts Department of Public Health has adopted a computer reporting system to replace reporting via fax, which may make the process easier and more reliable.
Ann W. Latner, JD, a former criminal defense attorney, is a freelance medical writer in Port Washington, N.Y.