Rate of Outpatient Medical Errors Equals Hospital Errors

There has been much attention given to the frequency of medical errors and strategies for error prevention in hospitals, but what about the rate of errors in outpatient settings? After all, most Americans are more likely to interface with medical professionals in outpatient clinics when they visit for routine checkups or minor medical procedures. Every day, people go to doctors’ offices and urgent care clinics to get illnesses diagnosed and conditions treated.

A recent article in the Journal of the American Medical Association looked at the prevalence of medical errors in outpatient settings. Researchers reviewed almost 11,000 medical malpractice damage awards. Of those malpractice claims, 48 percent of the treatments occurred in an inpatient setting, and 43 percent of the treatments occurred in an outpatient setting. Nine percent of the malpractice payments were a result of treatments in both settings.

Since I generally hear less about medical errors made in clinics than in the perceived high-stakes hospital environment, the almost even distribution of malpractice claims between the two settings came as a surprise to many. “I hope it’s a wake-up call for the medical community and for patients, so I can start working on ways to solve these problems,” said study author, Dr. Tara Bishop.

One reason for the high number of outpatient claims may be the high number of patient visits that occur outside a hospital setting. Every year over 950 million visits occur in doctors’ offices and outpatient clinics, compared with 34 million hospital visits. Additionally, as technology advances, more complex procedures are now being performed in outpatient settings.

Sadly, doctors are not immune from making mistakes. Examples include misdiagnosis, delayed diagnosis and medication errors. The outcomes of outpatient medical mistakes documented in the study were often serious, almost two-thirds of the claims concerned cases of major injury or death.

Physicians in a clinic, urgent care or other outpatient facility are held to the same medical professional standards that they are in a hospital. If you or a loved one has been a victim of medical malpractice in an outpatient clinic, it is in your best interest to contact an experienced medical malpractice attorney. A knowledgeable lawyer can advise you of your options and advocate on your behalf to help you hold negligent doctors accountable, and obtain compensation for your injuries and suffering.