DENVER -- Most physicians believe that reducing medical errors should be a national priority, but are much less likely than the public to believe quality of care is a problem, according to a new survey.
The study in Monday's issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine also found that nearly all physicians believe fear of medical malpractice is a barrier to reporting of errors, and that greater legal safeguards are needed for reporting systems to be effective.
Congress is considering a bill by Rep. Nancy Johnson, R-Conn., that would create a voluntary, confidential system for reporting errors, but so far no action has been taken.
Experts said the study underlines the difficulties in creating such a system.
"There is widespread fear that reporting of errors would lead to more medical malpractice. I think physicians are always practicing with some unconscious fear of being sued because it's very prevalent," said Dr. Michael Fetters, an assistant professor of family medicine at the University of Michigan whose area of expertise is errors in primary care.
The study was conducted with a mail survey of 1,000 Colorado physicians and 1,000 other physicians across the United States, as well as a telephone survey of 500 Colorado households.
The study found that 67.6 percent of people surveyed in households believed quality of care is a significant problem while just 29.1 percent of Colorado physicians and 34.9 percent of physicians nationwide agreed.
At the same time, 59.8 percent of the public said a national agency should be created to address medical errors while 24.1 percent of Colorado physicians and 32.2 percent of physicians nationwide would support that plan.