Americans’ Experiences with Medical Errors and Views on Patient Safety
This report presents the findings of a 2017 nationwide survey of more than 2,500 US adults, revealing that the vast majority of Americans are having positive experiences with the health care system, but 21 percent of adults report having personally experienced a medical error.
- Americans’ general experiences with the health care system
- Error incidence
- In-depth experiences with errors
- Medical error disclosure and patient-reported errors
- Americans’ perceptions of the patient safety landscape
NORC at the University of Chicago and IHI/NPSF Lucian Leape Institute. Americans’ Experiences with Medical Errors and Views on Patient Safety. Cambridge, MA: Institute for Healthcare Improvement and NORC at the University of Chicago; 2017.
In 2017, the Institute for Healthcare Improvement (IHI)/ National Patient Safety Foundation (NPSF) Lucian Leape Institute and NORC at the University of Chicago conducted a major survey of Americans to measure their experiences with medical errors. The data show that while the majority of Americans are interacting regularly with the health care system and having positive experiences, medical errors do happen. And when errors occur, they often have lasting impacts on the patient’s health and well-being.
The study provides a nuanced picture of how the public understands and perceives patient safety in the United States today and their personal experiences with and exposure to medical errors, and it gauges attitudes about the system and who bears the responsibility for ensuring the safety of patients. This study expands on a 1997 survey conducted by NPSF on the same topic.
Among the chief findings of the survey:
- The vast majority of Americans have positive interactions with the health care system.
- After having the term “medical error” defined for them, 21 percent of respondents say they have experienced a medical error in their own care.
- A majority of self-reported errors are occurring in outpatient settings.
- Most respondents say they believe safety overall has stayed the same or improved in recent years.
- Most respondents believe that, while health care providers are chiefly responsible for patient safety, patients and their families also have a role to play.
- Not all medical errors result in harm, but when harm does occur, it often has a long-term or permanent impact.
- Medical misdiagnosis and mistakes related to provider and patient communications are the most commonly reported types of errors.
- Those with medical error experience identify an average of seven factors that contributed to the error.
- Nearly half of those who say they experienced a medical error say that they or someone else reported it.
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