A new study has found that a system involving blame-free, anonymous reporting of medical errors results in increased medical-error reporting. This can help identify mistakes and procedural weaknesses so health-care providers can learn how to prevent them, thereby improving patient safety.

For the study, researchers from Levine Children's Hospital in Charlotte, North Carolina, trained a safety team at a large pediatric clinic on a new error-reporting system. Under the new system, all error reports would be anonymous and no one would be punished for making an error. The team comprised doctors and nurses as well as front desk staff and office managers, according to Reuters Health.

In the year before the new error-reporting system was implemented, the clinic had five error reports. In the two and a half years after the new system was installed, the safety team collected and reviewed 216 error reports.

Although the number of reported errors increased significantly, from an average of five errors each year to a yearly average of 86, the lead author of the study emphasized that the clinic probably did not have significantly more incidences of medical errors. Instead, it is likely that roughly the same number of medical errors occurred as in previous years, but simply more were reported under the new system.

Increased reporting of medical errors can help identify problems that lead to mistakes so the problems can be fixed. Indeed, the safety team's monthly review of reported errors at the clinic led to changes in the practice that addressed three-quarters of the reported errors, like medication errors. Over time, it is expected that the total number of reported errors will decrease, reflecting a true reduction in medical errors because of the changes made to improve patient safety.

Source: Reuters, Blame-free system increased medical error reports, Kerry Grens 21 November 2011