Parents of hospitalized children frequently catch and report errors that were not spotted by the hospital, according to a new study published in JAMA Pediatrics

The objective of the study [Khan et al. Parent-reported errors and adverse events in hospitalized children. 2016 Feb 29] was to “determine the frequency with which parents experience patient safety incidents and the proportion of reported incidents that meet standard definitions of medical errors and preventable adverse events.” 

The study looked at English-speaking parents of inpatient children aged 0 to 17 years who were in the pediatric unit of a children’s hospital. Parents were surveyed in writing about whether their child had experienced any safety incidents during their hospitalization. Most of the parents who responded (266 of 383) were female. Of the 383 parents surveyed, 34 reported a total of 37 safety incidents. Two physician reviewers classified the incidents as medical errors, quality issues, or neither, and then categorized the medical errors as harmful preventable adverse events, or not harmful. Of the 37 incidents examined, the reviewers determined that 23 of them, or 62%, were medical errors, and of those 30% caused harm that could have been prevented. A subsequent review of the medical records identified 57% of the parent-reported errors. 

The study authors concluded that “families are an underused source of data about errors, particularly preventable” ones, and that “hospitals may wish to consider incorporating family reports into routine safety surveillance systems.”