Errors Often Caused by Communication Failures -- MEDICA - World Forum for Medicine

Researchers analyzed data from a random sample of 889 closed malpractice claims which had been reviewed by specialist physicians between 2002 and 2004. The reviewers had determined whether injuries had occurred, and, if so, whether they were due to errors involving medical trainees. Of the closed medical claims involving both error and injury, more than one-fourth (27 percent), or 240 cases, involved trainees whose role in the error was considered to be at least moderately important, the study found.

Medical residents were involved in 87 percent of those cases; interns and fellows each were participants in 13 percent. Adverse outcomes were serious: one-third resulted in significant physical injury, one-fifth in major physical injury, and one-third resulted in death. Nearly a third of the cases took place in the outpatient setting.

Researchers also examined the role of trainee errors attributable to cognitive factors, such as judgment and technical knowledge shortcomings, and to teamwork factors, including supervision and patient handoffs. Cognitive factors contributed to the majority of trainee errors, according to the study. Nearly three-fourths (72 percent) involved errors in judgment, more than half (58 percent) were caused by a lack of technical knowledge, and more than half (57 percent) were due to failure of vigilance or memory.

Teamwork factors, notably lack of supervision and handoff problems, were also a significant issue, accounting for 70 percent of the cases involving trainee errors. A lack of supervision accounted for more than half (54 percent) of the trainee errors, and handoff problems accounted for nearly one-fifth (19 percent). Because multiple factors contributed to trainee errors, the percentages do not add up to 100 percent. Attending physicians’ failure to oversee the work of trainees was identified as a factor in 82 percent of the 129 cases where a lack of supervision contributed to a medical error, the study found.; Source: Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality