Primary Care Medical Errors Categorized
Medical errors in primary care settings are different from medical errors in hospitals
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Monday, September 02, 2002
American Academy of Family Physicians
(800) 274-2237, Ext. 5224
“This study shows that practicing family physicians report a spectrum of medical errors that is different from the types of medical errors previously identified in hospitals based care,” reported Susan M. Dovey, Ph.D., research analyst at The Robert Graham Center: Policy Studies in Family Practice and Primary Care. “There are important differences between care in hospitals, where most effort has been focused to improve patient safety, and primary care, where most people receive care for most of their health problems.”
The study is published in this week’s Quality and Safety in Health Care. Forty-two family physician members of the AAFP’s National Network for Family Practice and Primary Care Research volunteered to participate in the study. They reported incidents that happened in their practices that fit the study’s definition of “medical error.” The errors were classified and a categorization developed to use for further examination of patient safety issues in primary care.
The definition of medical error used in the study was that of the U.S. Institute of Medicine: “safety is defined as freedom from accidental injury” and “error is defined as the failure of a planned action to be completed as intended or the use of a wrong plan to achieve an aim.” To make the definitional functional in the study setting – the physicians’ offices, the researchers defined it to the participating physicians by explaining: “For this study, please report anything that happened in your own practice that should not have happened, that was not anticipated and that makes you say ‘that should not happen in my practice, and I don’t want it to happen again’. It can be small or large, administrative or clinical – anything that you identify as something to be avoided in the future.”
“The data highlight the important role of administrative systems, particularly medical record systems, as a source of errors that matter to patients and doctors,” explained Dovey. “Patients are hurt by medical errors in primary care settings and the lessons about medical errors from hospital-based settings cannot be readily applied in primary care settings. The types of errors are different and distinctive from hospital-based errors and the remedies will necessarily have to be different and distinctive also.”
The researchers plan to use and refine the categorization tool and to study medical errors in primary care more extensively. They will use their research as a basis for proposing remedies.
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Founded in 1947, the AAFP represents 110,600 physicians and medical students nationwide. It is the only medical society devoted solely to primary care.
Approximately one in four of all office visits are made to family physicians. That is 240 million office visits each year — nearly 87 million more than the next largest medical specialty. Today, family physicians provide more care for America’s underserved and rural populations than any other medical specialty. Family medicine’s cornerstone is an ongoing, personal patient-physician relationship focused on integrated care.
To learn more about the specialty of family medicine, the AAFP's positions on issues and clinical care, and for downloadable multi-media highlighting family medicine, visit www.aafp.org/media. For information about health care, health conditions and wellness, please visit the AAFP’s award-winning consumer website, www.FamilyDoctor.org.
Quality and Safety in Health Care (formerly Quality in Health Care), is published by the British Medical Journal and is devoted to quality and safety of health care. It is an interdisciplinary journal with international content, readership and editorial board. It can be accessed at http://qshc.bmj.com/.
The Robert Graham Center: Policy Studies in Family Practice and Primary Care conducts research and analysis that brings a family practice perspective to health policy deliberations in Washington. Founded in July 1999, the center is an independent research unit working under the personnel and financial policies of the American Academy of Family Physicians.