In a group of studies about medical errors in family medicine, the five error types most often observed and reported by U.S. family physicians were: (1) errors in prescribing medications; (2) errors in getting the right laboratory test done for the right patient at the right time; (3) filing system errors; (4) errors in dispensing medications; and (5) errors in responding to abnormal laboratory test results. “Errors in prescribing medications” was the only one of these five error types that was also commonly reported by family physicians in other countries.
Dovey SM, Phillips RL, Green LA, and Fryer GE
Family practices are major health care providers for people in the United States. Compared with hospitals, family practices and other clinics in outpatient settings have been relatively exempt from scrutiny about the safety of their care. We need to know the types of preventable errors that happen in primary care settings so that we can launch appropriate and effective efforts to protect patients from the harm these errors may cause.
Before 2002, only one systematic investigation anywhere in the world had tried to list medical errors most commonly encountered by family physicians. A 1998 Australian study pointed to equipment malfunction, delayed or omitted treatment, missed or delayed diagnoses, and the use of inappropriate equipment as the most common and potentially harmful events affecting primary care patients. In 2000 and 2001, we collected reports from U.S. family physicians on their observations of things that went wrong in their practices. In 2001, general practitioners from Australia, Canada, England, the Netherlands, and New Zealand added their observations. The most common types of errors shown in the accompanying table come from a database of 416 error reports by U.S. family physicians and 356 reports from general practitioners in other countries.