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CR Poll: Public concerned about medical harm

March 31, 2011

Consumer Reports Poll Finds High Levels of Concern About Medical Harm & Support For Public Ratings on Hospital Safety

A new poll released today by the Consumer Reports National Research Center found high levels of public concern about hospital-acquired infections and other forms of medical harm as well as support for making it easier for the public to find out how each hospital ranks when it comes to patient safety.
According to the poll, 77 percent of respondents expressed high or moderate concern that they or someone in their family might be harmed by a hospital infection during treatment in the hospital. Seventy-one percent expressed high or moderate concern about being harmed by a medication error, and 65 percent were similarly concerned about surgical errors.
Virtually all consumers — 96 percent — said that hospitals should be required to report medical errors to state health departments, and 82 percent wanted each hospital’s medical error record to be available to the public.
“It’s not surprising to find such high levels of public concern about hospital-acquired infections and medical errors given that one in four patients is harmed during treatment,” said Lisa McGiffert, director of Consumers Union’s Safe Patient Project (www.safepatientproject.org). “Our poll found that the vast majority of the public wants to know more about their local hospital’s record for keeping patients safe and supports efforts to require disclosure of this critical patient safety information.”
The Consumer Reports National Research Center conducted a telephone survey using a nationally representative probability sample of telephone households. 1,026 interviews were completed among adults aged 18+. Interviewing took place over January 28-31, 2011. The sampling error is +/- 3.1 percentage points at a 95 percent confidence level. Among its key results, the poll found that:
• Six in ten consumers (57 percent) said that it was common for patients to be harmed by a medical error in the hospital, and nearly half (48 percent) said that it is very or somewhat common for patients to be seriously harmed by their care.
• Despite these high levels of concern, three-quarters (78 percent) of those interviewed thought that hospitals were effective at preventing medical errors, but only 21 percent thought that hospital prevention was very effective.
• Only 17 percent of respondents thought their doctor or other hospital staff would always inform them when a medical error was made during treatment, even though 97 percent always wanted to be informed. Forty-seven percent said that they expected to be informed rarely or never when medical errors occurred.
• Only one-quarter (26 percent) of respondents said they would know where to file a complaint about a medical error they experienced at a hospital, indicating that regulators need to do a better job of informing the public about their role in overseeing hospital safety.
Recent research has found that hospital infections and other medical harm are even more common than previously estimated. A November 2010 study by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of the Inspector General found that one in seven Medicare patients, or 13.5 percent, experienced serious or long-term medical harm (including infections) or death while they underwent treatment in the hospital. Another 13 percent of patients experienced temporary harm. The researchers estimated that hospital infections and medical errors involving Medicare patients contributed to approximately 180,000 deaths and $4.4 billion in additional hospital care costs each year.
Likewise, a November 2010 New England Journal of Medicine study in North Carolina hospitals found that one in four patients were harmed by the care they received, ranging from hospital acquired infections to surgical errors to medication mistakes. Other medical errors include serious bed sores, patient falls in the hospital from inattentive care, and diagnostic mistakes. The study, which covered a six-year period, found no significant improvement in patient safety.
Since 2003, Consumers Union’s Safe Patient Project has advocated for and helped pass hospital infection reporting laws throughout the nation. Twenty-seven states and the District of Columbia now require hospital-specific public reports on certain infection rates. So far, twenty-three states have issued reports.
Starting this year, hospitals throughout the country must track and report when patients get central line-associated bloodstream infections (CLABSIs) in intensive care units in order to get an annual two percent Medicare payment increase. Hospitals must report to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Healthcare Safety Network, the same system being used under most state reporting laws. A national report on each hospital’s CLABSI infection rate is expected later in the year.
Twenty-six states require hospitals to report certain medical errors, but only 10 require public disclosure of hospital-specific information. The other 16 simply report statewide aggregated data to the public. Most of the states with reporting laws require hospitals to disclose errors that appear on the National Quality Forum’s “never event” list, which includes 28 errors that can be prevented and should never happen. This list is updated periodically.
“Most Americans have no way of finding out whether their hospital does a good job or not at preventing medical errors,” said McGiffert. “We need to hold hospitals accountable for the harm done to millions of patients each year through mandatory, public reporting of medical errors and of healthcare-acquired infections.”
Consumers Union has developed a model medical error reporting law and has been working this year to encourage states to adopt it. The model law attempts to address underreporting of these errors by requiring hospitals to report all medical harm rather than those covered by the “never event” list, and by requiring states to validate the accuracy of the data. It also establishes penalties for hospitals that fail to report medical harm.
For more information about Consumers Union’s patient safety campaign, see www.safepatientproject.org
Michael McCauley – 415-431-6747, ext 126; mccami@consumer.org