Of course we would never have thought of that.

A new paper in the Annals of Internal Medicine suggests an astounding technique for figuring out whether patients experienced an adverse event while in the hospital:

Asking them.

No, really.

The study by Massachusetts researchers (from University of Massachusetts, Brown, Harvard, Massachusetts Department of Public Health and Massachusetts Hospital Association) looked back at the experience of more than 2,600 patients in 16 Massachusetts hospitals during 6 months in 2003. The researchers started from the assumption that the medical-records review done by many hospitals to spot adverse events was not capturing enough information — and that the interviews that some hospitals do with patients after discharge were asking the wrong questions because they focus only on satisfaction.

So the team did a 20-minute phone interview 6 to 12 months after discharge for 2,600 patients, asking about “negative effects, complications or injuries,” and also reviewed the medical records of 1,000 patients who agreed to their charts’ being released for review. For each arm of the study, two physician-reviewers checked results to be sure what was scored as an adverse event actually qualified as one.

And they found: That twice as many adverse events were uncovered when patients were asked about their experience. Among the interviewees, 23 percent reported an adverse event; when records were reviewed, only 11 percent of patients were judged to have experienced one.

Now, let’s be clear: I’m very glad these researchers had the courage to do this study. Anything that supports better care, more transparency in care and more responsiveness to the patient’s experience is a good thing and I support it.

But when I think of the dozens of hospital patients and family members who have told me about their experiences with poor infection control — lack of hand-washing, lack of housekeeping, bloody gauze on floors — and with being completely unable to get anyone in those hospitals to pay attention, it just makes me want to beat my head against a wall. Coming up with the idea of asking the patients about their experience… this is so hard?

As one of the co-authors, Saul Weingart of Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, said in an accompanying press release: “It’s pretty clear that they can teach us important things about improving patient safety, if only we ask them.”

The cite is: Weissman, JS et al. Comparing Patient-Reported Hospital Adverse Events with Medical Record Review: Do Patients Know Something That Hospitals Do Not? Ann Intern Med 2008; 100-108.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *