Medical errors in primary care: results of an international study of family practice.
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OBJECTIVE: To describe errors Canadian family physicians found in their practices and reported to study investigators. To compare errors reported by Canadian family physicians with those reported by physicians in five other countries. DESIGN: Analytical study of reports of errors. The Linnaeus Collaboration was formed to study medical errors in primary care. General practitioners in six countries, including a new Canadian family practice research network (Nortren), anonymously reported errors in their practices between June and December 2001. An evolving taxonomy was used to describe the types of errors reported. SETTING: Practices in Canada, Australia, England, the Netherlands, New Zealand, and the United States. PARTICIPANTS: Family physicians in the six countries. MAIN OUTCOME MEASURES: Types of errors reported. Differences in errors reported in different countries. RESULTS: In Canada, 15 family doctors reported 95 errors. In the other five countries, 64 doctors reported 413 errors. Although the absence of a denominator made it impossible to calculate rates of errors, Canadian doctors and doctors from the other countries reported similar proportions of errors arising from health system dysfunction and gaps in knowledge or skills. All countries reported similar proportions of laboratory and prescribing errors. Canadian doctors reported harm to patients from 39.3% of errors; other countries reported harm from 29.3% of errors. Canadian physicians considered errors "very serious" in 5.8% of instances; other countries thought them very serious in 7.1% of instances. Hospital admissions and death were among the consequences of errors reported in other countries, but these consequences were not reported in Canada. CONCLUSION: Serious errors occur in family practice and affect patients in similar ways in Canada and other countries. Validated studies that analyze errors and record error rates are needed to better understand ways of improving patient safety in family practice.
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