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Medical Errors Worry Parents With Hospitalized Kids

Hospital Medical Errors

Medical errors that can occur during hospitalization is a concern for nearly two-thirds of parents, according to a study conducted at the University of Michigan Medical School. The parents said they felt they needed to be vigilant about their child’s care to prevent medical errors.

These parents are not expressing idle worries. According to a recent report released by the Hearst Corporation, an estimated two hundred thousand people will die this year because of medical errors and infections acquired while in the hospital.

The Agency for Healthcare Research Quality reports that in a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, the rates of medication errors and adverse drug events for hospitalized children were similar to those for hospitalized adults. However, the rate for medical errors associated with harmful drug effects was three times greater in children and still higher in infants in neonatal intensive care units.

In the current study, which is the first to document the concerns of parents regarding medical errors during a child’s hospitalization, researchers found that parents whose first language is not English were more likely to be concerned than native English speakers. It appears that language can be a barrier, as the investigators also found that parents who were comfortable communicating with doctors were less likely to be worried about medical errors.

The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality has published a list of 20 tips to help prevent medical errors in children. A few are offered here; the rest can be seen on the Agency’s website.

* Parents should be involved in every decision about their children’s health care. This includes choices of medications, medical procedures, surgeries, nutrition, and exercise, among other factors.

* Parents should inform their child’s doctor about any medications and supplements the child is taking. This information should be reviewed with the doctor(s) at least once a year.

* Parents should ask for complete and clearly written information on all of a child’s medications. Information should be available in a language other than English if the parents are not native English speakers and need assistance.

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* Parents should inform the child’s doctor(s) about any allergies the child has.

The University of Michigan study is important because it highlights the extent of parental concern about medical errors. Hopefully it will prompt efforts to improve communication between parents and health-care providers and ultimately lead to a significant reduction in medical errors in children.

Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality
Tarini BA et al. J Hosp Med 2009 Jul 30

This study, which appears July 30 in the Journal of Hospital Medicine, surveyed 278 parents of children who were hospitalized at the Children's Hospital & Regional Medical Center in Seattle, Wash., in 2005.

Medical errors are linked to between 48,000 and 98,000 deaths a year, according to the Institute of Medicine, and are linked to increases in length of stay, health care costs and death. Doctors and hospitals have focused on processes and hospital systems as a way to prevent medical errors, but little work has been done in investigating the experiences of patients and their potential role in preventing errors.

The Joint Commission and the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality currently recommend that parents help prevent errors by becoming actively involved and informed members of their health care team and taking part in every decision about their child's health care.

This study is an important step toward characterizing the scope of parental concern about medical errors during pediatric hospitalizations and understanding its relationship toward communication between parents and physicians, Tarini says.

Devising a quality initiative program to improve parents' confidence interacting with doctors may help to temper parents' concerns about medical errors while also encouraging their involvement in their child's medical care, the researchers suggest.

Funding: Grant from the Quality Improvement Committee at Children's Hospital & Regional Medical Center in Seattle, Wash.

Reference: Journal of Hospital Medicine, Vol. 4, issue no. 9