Physician and public opinions on quality of health care and the problem of medical errors

Arch Intern Med. 2002 Oct 28;162(19):2186-90. doi: 10.1001/archinte.162.19.2186.


Background: The 1999 Institute of Medicine report on medical errors proposed major changes to the health care system and gained widespread media attention, yet there is limited information on physician or public opinion regarding recommendations from that report.

Methods: Mail survey of 1000 Colorado physicians (n = 594) and 1000 national physicians (n = 304), and telephone survey of 500 Colorado households to assess agreement with several proposals and conclusions from the 1999 Institute of Medicine report.

Results: Most physicians believed that reduction of medical errors should be a national priority (69.7% of Colorado physicians). However, physicians were much less likely than the public to believe that quality of care is a problem (29.1% vs 67.6%; P<.001) or that a national agency is needed to address the problem of medical errors (24.1% vs 59.8%; P<.001). Uniformly, physicians believed that fear of medical malpractice is a barrier to reporting of errors and that greater legal safeguards are necessary for a mandatory reporting system to be successful. Nearly all physicians (92.9%) believed that more training in how to handle medical errors is needed, and 60.1% agreed that it is difficult to differentiate errors due to negligence from unintended errors.

Conclusions: There appears to be widespread concern among physicians regarding medical errors, but only a minority in this survey believed that the problem is as significant as the Institute of Medicine and the public believe it to be. Our results suggest that physicians see several barriers to successful error reduction including difficulty defining errors, the need for more training in handling errors, and fear of malpractice litigation. Addressing these barriers will be a necessary step to increasing physician support for many of the changes proposed by the Institute of Medicine.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Attitude of Health Personnel*
  • Colorado
  • Data Collection
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Logistic Models
  • Male
  • Mandatory Reporting
  • Medical Errors / prevention & control
  • Medical Errors / psychology*
  • Middle Aged
  • Multivariate Analysis
  • Odds Ratio
  • Physicians / psychology*
  • Public Opinion*
  • Quality of Health Care*