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February 29, 2016

Parents can spot errors that doctors miss, study finds

Researchers used parental surveys to find 10 medical errors at a children's hospital

No one pays closer attention to a child in the hospital than their parents. In fact, a new study reveals that their watching eyes can even catch errors doctors miss.

Using parental surveys, researchers in Boston were able to find 10 medical errors that staff at a pediatric hospital didn't notice, according to a paper published Monday in JAMA Pediatrics.

The researchers surveyed 383 parents whose children had been hospitalized between May 2013 and October 2014, asking them if they noticed any safety incidents. Thirty-four parents, around 9 percent of those surveyed, reported problems. After reviewing these complaints, researchers found 10 preventable mistakes that had never been mentioned in the kids' medical records.

"Families are an underused source of data about errors," the authors concluded. They suggested that hospitals start routinely using family surveys to check for any safety issue that could have slipped under the radar.

The study also found that children with medical errors stayed at the hospital longer, were more likely to have a metabolic or neuromuscular condition and, interestingly, were more likely to come from wealthy households.

One limitation of the study, however, was that the total number of medical errors was small (23, or six for every 100 patients). Also, all of the parents surveyed spoke English. There would likely be more communication issues, and, therefore, more errors, if parents and doctors didn't speak the same language. 

“As anyone who has ever been hospitalized knows, hospitals are very complex places where there are a lot of moving parts, and errors are bound to happen despite all of our best efforts,” lead author Dr. Alisa Khan, of the Boston Children's Hospital, told Reuters. “I think we – including parents – can all work together to keep children safe.”

See the study here.

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