Parents are untapped resource for the reduction of medical errors, study finds

About 1 in 10 parents noticed medical errors that physicians missed in a new study published in JAMA.

For the study, researchers examined data from two general pediatric clinics in one hospital on children admitted in 2013 and 2014. Out of 383 parents who filled out surveys about safety incidents their child experienced during hospitalization, 34 reported 37 safety incidents. After physician review, 62 percent of those incidents were determined to be medical errors, 30 percent of which were preventable adverse events. Researchers then compared the parent-reported events with patients' medical records and clinical data extracted from hospital administrative records. The results indicated that parents often reported errors and adverse events that went otherwise undocumented.

"Parents may notice different things than healthcare providers do, and thereby provide complementary information that can only help make care safer," said lead study author Alisa Khan, MD, a pediatrics researcher at Harvard Medical School and Boston Children's Hospital, in a Reuters article.

Some preventable errors described by parents involved late detection of a foreign object left in the patient after a procedure, recognition and treatment of urinary retention, wound contamination and an infection caused by an unused intravenous catheter.

The study's limitations include its small sample size, as the data is restricted to one hospital and the study's focus is on female English-speaking parents who were well-educated and affluent. The researchers suggest that the incorporation of nonEnglish-speaking parents (whose children could be more vulnerable to adverse events) into the study may have presented even higher volumes of parent-recognized and physician-missed errors.

The study's findings suggest that parents are underused in the aggregation medical error data.

Irini Kolaitis, MD, a pediatrics researcher at Northwestern Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago who wasn't involved in the study, said in the Reuters article, "A parent knows their child better than any member of the healthcare team does, stands by their bedside and plays an active role in their child's healthcare delivery throughout their hospitalization and after discharge, and often has a sense when something is not right...for these reasons, any perceived error that a parent reports noting in the care of their child must be taken seriously."

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