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Medical Error Self-Reporting Stifled by Fears of Retaliation

John Commins, for HealthLeaders Media, June 6, 2011

It's been established that one effective method for improving patient safety is to create an environment where staff are encouraged to self-report medical errors without fear of retaliation.

So, it was surprising to see a recent HR Solutions survey that found that while 70% of healthcare employees believe they can report a medical/healthcare error caused by a colleague without fear of reprisal, only 54% said they can report an error they themselves have caused without fear of retaliation.

And, only 65% of healthcare employees in the survey said they would be supported by their supervisors if they committed a medical error. The study analyzed survey responses from nearly 300,000 healthcare employees at 160 hospitals and health systems throughout the nation, so this is an impressive sampling.

What does it say about the state of employee relations and engagement if more than half of healthcare employees fear retaliation?

One big obstacle for creating an open, engaged workforce might be workers' fear of retaliation from front line supervisors, says Rick Lovering, the vice president for Human Resources and Organizational Development at AtlantiCare in Egg Harbor Township, NJ. It's not enough, he says, for a CEO to declare a zero-tolerance policy on retaliation from a lofty perch in the c-suite. That policy has to be instilled in every manager in a healthcare organizations.

"You do it through constant education and constant reinforcement," Lovering says. "I'm a firm believer that the conversation can drive the culture, so if you keep talking about these things and why we don't want to have a punitive response to errors people buy into it."

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