Objectives. To describe the proportion and types of medical errors that are stated to be reported via incident report systems by physicians and nurses who care for pediatric patients and to determine attitudes about potential interventions for increasing error reports.

Methods. A survey on use of incident reports to document medical errors was sent to a random sample of 200 physicians and nurses at a large children's hospital. Items on the survey included proportion of medical errors that were reported, reasons for underreporting medical errors, and attitudes about potential interventions for increasing error reports. In addition, the survey contained scenarios about hypothetical medical errors; the physicians and nurses were asked how likely they were to report each of the events described. Differences in use of incident reports for documenting medical errors between nurses and physicians were assessed with χ2 tests. Logistic regression was used to determine the association between health care profession type and likelihood of reporting medical errors.

Results. A total of 140 surveys were returned, including 74 from physicians and 66 by nurses. Overall, 34.8% of respondents indicated that they had reported <20% of their perceived medical errors in the previous 12 months, and 32.6% had reported <40% of perceived errors committed by colleagues. After controlling for potentially confounding variables, nurses were significantly more likely to report ≥80% of their own medical errors than physicians (odds ratio: 2.8; 95% confidence interval: 1.3–6.0). Commonly listed reasons for underreporting included lack of certainty about what is considered an error (indicated by 40.7% of respondents) and concerns about implicating others (37%). Potential interventions that would lead to increased reporting included education about which errors should be reported (listed by 65.4% of respondents), feedback on a regular basis about the errors reported (63.8%) and about individual events (51.2%), evidence of system changes because of reports of errors (55.4%), and an electronic format for reports (44.9%). Although virtually all respondents would likely report a 10-fold overdose of morphine leading to respiratory depression in a child, only 31.7% would report an event in which a supply of breast milk is inadvertently connected to a venous catheter but is discovered before any breast milk goes into the catheter.

Conclusions. Medical errors in pediatric patients are significantly underreported in incident report systems, particularly by physicians. Some types of errors are less likely to be reported than others. Information in incident reports is not a representative sample of errors committed in a children's hospital. Specific changes in the incident report system could lead to more reporting by physicians and nurses who care for pediatric patients.

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