What drives a patient to report a medical error?

A recent survey of adults in Massachusetts showed 23% had experienced a medical error or someone close to them did — but just 54 percent of those people reported the medical error to someone.

Usually, if the error was reported, the patient reported it to a health professional where the event occurred (79 percent). Medical errors were not frequently reported to a government agency by the patient (8 percent). Most often, the person reported the error in writing.

So what drove those who did report a medical error to do so? Below are the five most common reasons, derived from the survey:

  • Wanted to prevent the same error from happening to someone else — 90 percent
  • Wanted someone to help cope with the problems caused by the error — 68 percent
  • Were angry and wanted to get it off their chest — 40 percent
  • Wanted the person responsible to be punished — 31 percent
  • Wanted compensation for harm caused by the error — 17 percent

The most common reason participants gave for not reporting an error was because they thought it wouldn't do any good (65 percent). Thirty-six percent of respondents didn't report an error because they didn't know how to.

The survey was conducted via phone Sept. 2-28 and 1,224 Massachusetts residents participated.

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