Americans Still Focusing on Medical Errors
Dec. 11, 2000 (Washington) -- A majority of Americans are more
concerned about their health care providers' potential mistakes than the
implied risks of flying on an airplane, according to results from a national
survey sponsored by the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Agency for Healthcare
Research and Quality.
The results released Monday found that about 70% of people
surveyed consider medical errors and malpractice suits to be of greatest value
in helping determine the overall quality of their health care providers.
The survey demonstrates that the media attention to medical
errors has helped establish a new agenda, says Drew Altman, president of the
Kaiser Family Foundation, of Menlo Park, Calif. "Media attention to the
Institute of Medicine story [about the number of medical errors] has propelled
medical errors to the forefront in just a short period of time," he
"This doesn't mean consumers aren't getting good care,"
says Charles Inlander, president of the People's Medical Society, a leading
consumer advocacy group. But the results demonstrate that public policy has not
kept pace with the public's concerns, Inlander tells WebMD.
Unless lawmakers and regulators now move forward with proposed
new laws such as opening the National Practitioner Databank, "we are going
to be back here 4 years from now," Islander explains. The National
Practitioner Databank is a national compilation of health care information
holding such information as the names of doctors that have been sued for
"I think the results about medical errors is striking,"
agrees Peter Lee, JD, president of the Pacific Business Group on Health, a
nonprofit business consortium. But the real story, Lee says, is why consumers
still don't use this information about their health care providers to make
their treatment decisions.
The survey, whose results are based upon telephone
conversations with over 2,000 adults, found that while Americans are more
likely now than just 4 years ago to recognize the differences between health
plans, hospitals, and specialists, a mere 12% used any of that information to
make their health care-related decisions.
This "disconnection" demonstrates that consumers are
not getting the right information, Lee says. Among the reasons listed by the
respondents for not using the available information is that the information was
not relevant to their needs, was provided at the wrong time, and did not cover
other specifics such as cost. About 70% surveyed also said that they never saw
any relevant information.
Despite consumers' concern about quality, this
"disconnection" also demonstrates that other factors such as cost
continue to play a large roll in health care-related purchasing decisions, says
Sam Ho, MD, director of quality management for PacifiCare Health Systems, a
national insurer. About half of all Americans with health insurance are covered
by employer-based plans, making comparative quality information also less
relevant to most consumers, he points out.