Hospital Medication Errors in Canada: Are patients safer in Canada?

by John McKiggan

Pat Malone, in my opinion, is one of the most capable medical malpractice lawyers in the United States. That is why I frequently read his D.C. medical malpractice blog.

I am currently representing the family of a young man who died because he received the wrong medication during his treatment in hospital. So an article Pat recently wrote on Hospital Medication Errors caught my attention.

Medication errors common

Pat notes that medical errors in hospitals are far more common than one would assume. He goes on to say that one of the reasons for this is that patients and their loved ones are usually not informed when a mistake occurs.

Patients kept in the dark

The article reports that researchers at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, generally considered the top medical school in the U.S. and one of the best in the world, analyzed 839,553 medical errors across the country. The medical errors were reported using MEDMARX, an anonymous, confidential, self-reporting system. The researchers determined that, when an error did occur, patients and their families were very rarely informed. In fact, the study determined that less than 2-percent of all of the errors were disclosed to the patients!

What about Canada?

We would like to believe that things would be different in Canada, wouldn’t we? Well, here in Canada the Canadian Medical Association’s Code of Ethics specifically states that medical professionals are obliged to take all reasonable to steps to prevent harm and, if harm should occur, doctors must disclose it to their patients.

Also, there is a Canadian Medication Incident Reporting and Prevention System (CMIRPS) which is a national program which collects, analyzes and shares information regarding medical accidents.

And the Disclosure Guidelines from the Patient Safety Institute of Canada specifically state:

“Whenever a patient suffers harm, whatever the reason, the healthcare provider or organization has an obligation to communicate to the patient about that harm and, if applicable, the event that led to the harm.”

The Guidelines go on to states that disclosure should occur if the mistake causes any harm or risk of harm. However, disclosure is discretionary if there is a near miss or close call. If the medical professional is uncertain about whether harm has occurred they recommend that disclosure take place.

Are Code of Ethics and Guidelines being followed?

The Code of Ethics and the Guidelines would suggest that Canadians would likely be informed if a mistake was made in their care or medication right? Not quite.

A 2007 report from the Canadian Medical Association Journal specifically notes that Canadian patients are:

“…no more likely to be informed about harmful errors than patients elsewhere.”

It is important that you express any concerns you have to you medical professionals. Remind them of any allergies you have suffered and of any other drugs you are receiving.

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