Eurobarometer survey on medical errors

The impact of some adverse events in the media and public opinion cannot be ignored. To know the extent of the problem constitutes a first step for an institutional response. For this reason the Commission has carried out, for the first time, a survey on the perception of medical errors in the European Union. The poll also covers the pre-accession and candidate countries and the Turkish Cypriot Community.

The European Commission has published in 2006 the results of a Eurobarometer survey on the perception of medical errors by Europeanspdf. Almost 4 in 5 EU citizens (78%) classify medical errors as an important problem in their country. 38% of respondents rank the issue as very important and a slightly higher share (40%) sees the topic as fairly important. According to the poll 23% of Europeans say they or their family has been the victim of a medical error; 18% say this happened in a hospital, while 11% say they have been prescribed the wrong medication.

Medical errors perceived as a prominent problem in Europe
In Italy (97%), Poland (91%) and Lithuania (90%), at least 9 in 10 respondents perceive the problem as important. The respective shares of those evaluating the problem as very important reach 61% in Italy, 54% in Poland and 50% in Lithuania. Citizens of Southern Europe and new Member States around the Baltic Sea appear to be somewhat more concerned about the safety of hospital patients while citizens of Western Europe, in particular of the Nordic Member States, seem to have more confidence in their healthcare system. 23% of Europeans state they have been directly affected by a medical error personally or in the family. 18% indicate that they or their family members have experienced a serious medical error in a hospital whereas 11% claim to have been prescribed wrong medication.

Incidents in hospitals
In general, incidents in hospitals appear to be more common than incidents of unsuitable medication. The highest numbers of incidents experienced in hospitals are found in Latvia (32%), Denmark (29%) and Poland (28%) while errors in the medicament prescribed by a doctor are the most frequent again in Latvia (23%) and Denmark (21%) but also in Estonia and Malta (18% each). Austria tops the ranking having both the fewest medical errors in hospitals (11%) and in medical prescriptions (7%). Incidents are reported to be fairly rare also in Germany and Hungary.

Over half of Europeans believe they cannot avoid serious medical errors in hospitals
Most respondents (51%) think that it is not likely that they as hospital patients have an influence on medical decisions affecting them, out of which 16% believe that it is outright impossible.

Europeans trust health professionals but….
Most EU citizens trust medical professionals not to make a mistake while treating their patients. Dentists are appreciated with the most confidence as almost 3 in 4 respondents (74%) trust them. 69% have faith in doctors and 68% in other medical staff. However, a significant share of respondents has doubts about the quality of health care provided by these professional groups. The proportions are respectively: 29% about doctors, 23% about dentists and 30% not feeling confident about ‘other medical staff'. This can be seen to imply that the trust in the functioning of health care systems could be improved.

The intention of the Commission is to carry out a first analysis based on citizens' perception of medical errors and to integrate the results of this Eurobarometer (prepared with the cooperation of the London School of Economics) to the work of the patient safety working group and also possible other areas.