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International Survey: U.S. Leads In Medical Errors

Patients in Six Nations Report High Error Rates,
Lapses In Hospital Discharge Planning, And Lack Of Care Coordination

U.S. Has Highest Out-Of-Pocket Expenses And Rates Of Forgone Care Due To Costs


Bethesda, MD — One-third of patients with health problems in the United States report experiencing medical, medication, or test errors, the highest rate of any nation in a new Commonwealth Fund international survey. Assessing health care access, safety, and care coordination in Australia, Canada, Germany, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and the United States, the survey found that while no one nation was best or worst overall, the United States stood out for high error rates, inefficient coordination of care, and high out-of-pocket costs leading to barriers to access to care.

The findings are published today in a Health Affairs article, “Taking the Pulse of Health Care Systems: Experiences of Patients with Health Problems in Six Countries,” whose lead author is Commonwealth Fund senior vice president Cathy Schoen.

You can read the article at http://content.healthaffairs.org/cgi/content/abstract/hlthaff.w5.509.

“While the consistently high error rates and lack of coordination are disturbing, the findings also highlight the potential for each country to improve,” said Commonwealth Fund president Karen Davis. “Some countries have been able to achieve timely access to needed care while reducing financial barriers. Each country could also gain through strategies to improve the quality and efficiency of care, such as implementing modern information technology systems, supporting patient engagement in care, and improving management of chronic conditions.”

The 2005 survey of adults with health problems is the eighth in an annual series of cross-national surveys conducted by Harris Interactive for the Commonwealth Fund.

One-third (34 percent) of U.S. survey participants reported at least one of four types of errors: They believed that they experienced a medical mistake in treatment or care, were given the wrong medication or dose, were given incorrect results for a test, or experienced delays in being notified about abnormal test results. Three of ten Canadian respondents reported at least one of these errors, as did one-fifth or more of patients in Australia (27 percent), New Zealand (25 percent), Germany (23 percent), and the United Kingdom (22 percent).

U.S. patients who saw four or more doctors in the past two years were especially vulnerable, with about half reporting at least one of these errors; this points toward lapses in communication during care transitions.

Although attention to patient safety has focused chiefly on care in hospitals, a majority of patients (60 percent or more) in each country who reported medical mistakes or medical errors said that these errors occurred outside the hospital, which highlights the need for policies to improve patient safety in ambulatory care settings.

“There were many symptoms of poorly coordinated care in every country, regardless of the type of delivery or financing system,” said Schoen. “Shortfalls were particularly evident for people when discharged from the hospital, and for patients seeing multiple physicians. Improved care coordination during transitions across sites of care and providers offer opportunities for significant improvement. These patients are the ‘canary in the coal mine’ of any health system.”

In all six countries, one-third or more of recently hospitalized patients reported failures to coordinate care during hospital discharge. Germany had the highest rate of patients reporting lack of follow-up care, with three-fifths (60 percent) saying that the hospital did not make arrangements for follow-up visits with a doctor or other health professional or otherwise give instructions about posthospital care, such as symptoms to watch for and when to seek further care.

The United States had the highest rate of patients reporting coordination-of-care problems that reflected inefficient care during doctor visits. One-third of U.S. respondents said that within the past two years, either their test results or records were not available at the time of a doctor’s appointment, or that a doctor had ordered a test that had already been done. Rates of care-coordination problems in the United States were higher than those in the other five countries, which ranged between about one-fifth to one-quarter reporting coordination problems.

Patients with chronic diseases in all of the countries often did not receive the care recommended to manage their condition. At best, about half of diabetics reported receiving all four recommended screening exams to manage their condition. Patients who had supports such as a self-management plan or a nurse included as part of their care management team were more likely than others to have received recommended care.

The United States was an outlier for its financial burdens on patients:
• Half of U.S. adults reported that they had gone without care because of costs in the past year
• In contrast, just thirteen percent of U.K. adults reported not getting needed care because of cost
• One-third of U.S. patients reported out-of-pocket expenses greater than $1,000 in the past year
• U.K. patients were the most protected from high cost burdens, with two-thirds having no out-of-pocket expenses. The variations were notable given the study’s design focus on sicker adults with recent intensive use of medical care.

Access—including after-hours access—and waiting times to see a doctor when sick differed markedly across the countries:
• Canadian and U.S. adults who needed medical care were the least likely to report fast access (same day) to doctors (30 percent or fewer of U.S. or Canadian patients)
• In contrast, majorities of patients in New Zealand (58 percent) and Germany (56 percent) reported that they were able to get same-day appointments, as did nearly half of patients in Australia (49 percent) and the United Kingdom (45 percent)
• Majorities of patients in Germany (72 percent), New Zealand (70 percent), and the United Kingdom (57 percent) also reported easy after-hours (nights, weekends, or holidays) access to a doctor
• In contrast, majorities of patients in the United States (60 percent), Australia (58 percent), and Canada (53 percent) said that it was very or somewhat difficult to get after-hours care
• The four countries with comparatively more rapid access to physicians—Australia, Germany, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom—also had lower rates of emergency room use, with Germany having the lowest rates
• One-fifth of Canadians and one-fourth of U.S. patients who reported going to the ER said that it was for a condition that could have been treated by their regular doctor if available

The findings highlight the need for improved access as well as coordination of care. The authors conclude that “these findings suggest that many of the problems with which policy leaders are grappling transcend specific payment or delivery systems and will require more fundamental transformation.”

The Commonwealth Fund is a private foundation supporting independent research on health care issues and making grants to improve health care practice and policy.

Health Affairs , published by Project HOPE, is the leading journal of health policy. The peer-reviewed journal appears bimonthly in print with additional online-only papers published weekly as Health Affairs Web Exclusives at www.healthaffairs.org. The full text of each Health Affairs Web Exclusive is available free of charge to all Web site visitors for a two-week period following posting, after which it will switch to pay-per-view for nonsubscribers. The abstracts of all articles are free in perpetuity. Web Exclusives are supported in part by a grant from the Commonwealth Fund.

 


©2005 Project HOPE–The People-to-People Health Foundation, Inc.