Alarming medical error statistics

Consumers Association of Penang (CAP) recently came across the findings presented in the Research Highlights of a study on “Patient Safety in Primary Care”. This study was conducted by the Ministry of Health (MoH) in 12 of their primary care clinics in 4 states in Malaysia.

From the results, we are alarmed to note that more than 50% of the medical records reviewed from primary healthcare visits had a medical error. Out of these errors over 93%, or in other words almost all, were preventable. It was found that the majority of medical errors were related to medication.

A lack of knowledge and skills of MoH staff was shown to contribute to these medical errors. Apart from that, poor documentation appears to be a key feature in patients’ medical records.

This situation is probably representative of the general situation in government hospitals and clinics or perhaps even worse.

In general we understand that an intervention package has been carried out and that a post-intervention survey is currently being conducted. We call on the Ministry to reveal in detail what were the concrete intervention steps taken to immediately address the situation, and also the results of this post-intervention survey.

CAP also calls on the Ministry of Health to alert the public in more detail so that people can be aware and take their own precautions where possible.

Taking the matter further, it was once found that in New York in the US, the act of publishing death rates for cardiac surgery forced hospitals to look at their own work. Deaths from cardiac surgery fell by 41% thereafter, over a period of six years.

Here in Malaysia, it may also help to make it compulsory for healthcare facilities, both public and private, to release statistics on death rates following cardiac surgery, liver transplants and other risky procedures.

In addition, regular and detailed updates on medical errors committed in healthcare facilities throughout the country will compel healthcare personnel to examine their own work and make the necessary changes for improvement.

Press Statement, 20 March 2009

Read how you can be an informed patient and protect yourself against medical errors in the CAP Guide, Can Doctors Be Trusted?