How To Report Medical Errors March 7, 2023.
Unfortunately, medical errors are a common event in today’s healthcare practices. Medical errors range from minor to severe but often have adverse effects on patients and serious consequences for their families. Medical errors may be "human error," but they are still preventable.
Medical error reporting systems are meant to ensure these mistakes are reported and that doctors, nurses, and other healthcare providers are disciplined. So what is a medical error? And what should be reported?
What Are Medical Errors?
A medical error is any “preventable adverse effect of medical care, whether it is evident or harmful to the patient or not.” A medical error can include medication errors, such as under or overprescribing medication, adverse drug reactions, misdiagnoses, pressure injuries, and more.
Medical errors do not always cause harm to the patient and may not even be noticed by the patient. For instance, a medication error entered into the patient’s chart but detected by a pharmacist and corrected before the medication was administered would still be an error. Medical errors impact patient safety even without adverse events.
What's Considered a Reportable Event?
Under Ohio law, any errors that may have caused or contributed to the following results must be reported to the State Medical Board:
- Temporary harm to a patient that requires any intervention
- Temporary harm to a patient that required hospitalization
- Permanent harm to a patient
- Harm that required life-sustaining intervention
- Harm that led to the patient’s death
Paperwork or diagnostic errors that do not result in patient harm, such as mistakes that are corrected before they result in injury, do not need to be reported. Medical error reporting laws require strict confidentiality to protect anyone reporting an error.
Are Medical Mistakes Considered Medical Malpractice?
A medical error is a mistake in treatment that affects the quality of care. Medical malpractice is a deviation from the recognized standard of care. To establish malpractice, a plaintiff must show that the doctor was required to meet the heightened standard of care required of a medical professional, failed to meet that standard, and that this failure was the actual cause of the patient’s injury.
A minor error could be medical malpractice, but the patient would not have a cause of action unless there is an injury. Only a significant error with resulting harm to the patient would provide grounds for a malpractice case.
For instance, suppose an incorrect medication was entered into a patient’s chart. This is clearly an error because the patient is allergic to that medication. If an alert nurse or pharmacist catches the mistake and does not administer the medication, there is no harm and no malpractice case. However, if the medication is given and the patient suffers a severe reaction, it may be a malpractice case.
The Medical Error Reporting Process
Unlike most other states, Ohio has an “apology law.” This law protects physicians who apologize after a negative outcome or when disclosing errors and prevents the apology from being used in a future malpractice suit.
Apology laws have been found to increase transparency and improve patient/doctor communication. However, a partial or insincere apology may be the start of the reporting process, as it may signal an error that led to harm.
If you believe you have been the victim of a medical error that should be reported, you can contact the Ohio State Medical Board. Before you begin, understand that the Board investigates matters regarding:
- Standard of care violations
- Improper medication prescription or usage
- Sexual misconduct
- Unlicensed practice or improper practice
- Criminal behavior
- Medical error violations
The Board will not investigate:
- Billing disputes
- Insurance matters
- HIPAA violations
- Worker complaints
- “Rude” doctors, nurses, or aides
- Nursing homes or assisted living facilities (these have their own agency)
Additionally, the Board does not regulate nurses, chiropractors, dentists, psychologists, pharmacists, or hospitals. These have their own regulatory agencies, and you can find links to their boards on the Medical Board’s website.
File the Incident With the State's Medical Board
The Board provides an online complaint form for you to describe your complaint. You need to fill it out completely so that the Board has as much information as possible to investigate the complaint. For anonymous reporting, you can call the confidential hotline at 1-833-333-SMBO (7626).
If you have any supporting documentation, you can attach it to your incident report. The investigator may contact you with further questions.
It may take a year or more to investigate your claim fully. The Board receives many medical complaints annually and wants to investigate them to prevent future errors and complaints. There is no statute of limitations on filing a medical error complaint, but the sooner you file it, the easier it will be for the Board to investigate it.
Keep Your Medical Records Handy
Be sure to keep all your medical records available in case you are contacted by one of the investigators. They may need additional information or other documentation. You will also need these records if you decide to pursue legal action.
If the Error Has Caused You Major Harm, Seek Legal Help
The Board is only a regulatory agency. They cannot provide any assistance in a malpractice case. If you have suffered an injury because of a medical error and believe you have a malpractice case against your doctor or healthcare provider, you should contact a medical malpractice attorney.
Unlike a complaint to the Board, you have only one year to file a lawsuit for medical malpractice, so you should consult an attorney right away.
Need To Know if You Have a Case?
If you have suffered an injury due to a healthcare provider’s mistake and aren’t sure if it was malpractice, you need to talk to the attorneys at the Mellino Law Firm. We’ve been practicing medical malpractice law in the Cleveland area for almost 40 years, and we understand that it can be hard to sue your doctor for what seems like an honest mistake.
If you or a loved one were the victim of a medical error that led to serious harm, you deserve just compensation for your injuries. At the Mellino Law Firm, we want to ensure you get the compensation you deserve and that the same errors don’t happen again. Contact us today at (440) 333-3800 for a consultation about your case.