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How important are near misses to medical error studies?

When most studies look at medical errors, they look at the instances where patients suffer adverse effects. These may range from allergic reactions to dismemberment and death. Studying the near misses that someone else catches and resolves before things go awry may help professionals better understand where they go wrong and how to prevent it from happening to you and your loved ones.

One doctor explained to NPR that, when you factor in near misses, medical errors occur a lot more frequently than people realize. Her discussion and book point to emotional distractions and busy facilities as causes for a significant number of these errors.

The iceberg below the surface

The doctor describes near misses as the foundation of mistakes that lurks below the surface of the smaller problem. In comparison, she believes the reported mistakes are the smaller problem, not in severity, but in sheer volume. She says that without discussing the near misses, medical professionals may never resolve the issues. Unfortunately, many health care professionals refuse to discuss these medical errors out of shame and embarrassment.

The contributing causes

The doctor pointed to several factors that may put you and your family at risk. Ironically, when doctors commit errors, they may commit even more mistakes while distracted by the guilt of their omission or mistake. Here are some additional factors she identified:

  • Transferring a large number of patients at once
  • Receiving large donations of different types of emergency equipment
  • Relying too heavily on electronic systems for patient data
  • Taking other professionals’ word for it, instead of personally checking scans and lab results

The bottom line

Near misses often fall by the wayside because they do not result in litigation or lost lives. However, studying them further might present the key to reducing medical injuries and deaths.