Two recent studies raise critical questions about the frequency of serious hospital mistakes and the measures used to track them.

Researchers affiliated with the Institute of Healthcare Improvement developed a new method to track “adverse events” – what you and I call injuries caused by medical error. Using their Golden Trigger Tool, the team scanned medical records for certain triggers for such problems, and then investigated each case to see if, in fact, an adverse event arose. As reported in an L.A. Times article, the showed that injuries due to medical errors occurred in 33.2% of admissions, 10 times more than previously detected using other methods.

Meanwhile, Medicare Inspector General Daniel Levinson released a report today indicating that hundreds of serious hospital errors go unrecorded because the inspectors who uncover the problems fail to report them to federal accrediting agencies. According to the USA Today article discussing the report:

15,000 Medicare patients die each month in part because of the treatment they receive in a hospital. Tuesday’s report focuses on the worst errors — or “immediate jeopardy complaints.” They include surgical fires, patient suicides, sexual assault, surgeries performed on the wrong patients and medical instruments left inside a patient after a surgery.

The law dictates that in most cases patients must given informed consent before undergoing medical treatment, but studies like this beg the question – how can you give informed consent if you aren’t given all the information?