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Reuters Health news service reports that a survey presented on February 20, 2003 at a meeting of the American College of Preventive Medicine in San Diego, California found that only about half of the medical residents (student doctors) at a community hospital were aware the hospital had a system in place to report medical errors and a vast majority of the residents never used it.

Researcher Dr. Dorothea Wild says, “I was surprised that the knowledge of error reporting by physicians was low and that they were using it so little.”

“If physicians don’t learn how to report errors during residency, they’re unlikely to learn it later on,” she said.

There have been many other studies showing that medical errors are underreported. According to Dr. Wild, it has to do with the way hospitals approach the issue. “The traditional hospital culture is one of blame and blaming the individual making the mistake instead of looking at the whole system.” This keeps hospitals from finding the “vulnerable spots” and taking steps to correct them.

The study did find that 35 of 36 nurses surveyed at the hospital not only knew about the error reporting system but the majority of them used it regularly. “Nurses actually did a better job of reporting errors than doctors did,” Wild said. “Doctors could learn a lot from nurses in that respect.”