Harvard Health Letter

Patient, protect thyself?

Studies show that you can, as a patient, spot and possibly prevent a medical error from happening to you.

American medicine used to keep mum on the subject of medical mistakes and the harm they do. Harvard researchers helped break that silence with a 1990 study of adverse events in hospitals throughout New York State. Then the Institute of Medicine put its spotlight on the issue with a 1999 report, To Err Is Human. Scores of studies have been done since, and most have involved identifying errors by reviewing medical records.

Patients bear witness

What about talking to patients? Some researchers have. Harvard researchers studied medication errors at four adult primary care practices in Boston. They interviewed patients twice: once 10–14 days after they received a prescription and then about three months later. Medical records were reviewed separately.

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