According to the latest research, over 400,000 hospitalized patients die each year in the United Stated as a result of preventable medical error. Medical error is possibly responsible for one in six of all deaths in this country.

What are medical errors?

A medical error occurs when a plan for medical care isn't carried out or when the wrong plan is used. Medical errors can occur in hospitals, doctor's offices, nursing homes, clinics, pharmacies and in patients' homes.

One example of a medical error is when a health care provider chooses an inappropriate type of care, such as giving a patient a certain antibiotic without knowing that he or she was allergic to it. Or the health care provider chooses the appropriate care, but carries it out incorrectly. For example, a health care provider plans to feed a baby formula, but fails to dilute it and inadvertently gives the patient a concentrated dose.

Often, errors occur not because of poor performance by doctors, nurses, pharmacists or other health care providers, but rather as a result of the ways things are done. For example, the wrong medication is prescribed because the provider does not have the patient's complete information. Or there is a delay in beginning treatment because test results are not communicated by the lab to the health care provider, or by the provider to the patient.

What is the Betsy Lehman Center’s Role in Patient Safety?

The general purpose of the Lehman Center is to serve as “a clearinghouse for the development, evaluation and dissemination...of best practices for patient safety and medical error reduction.” Under its enabling statute, G.L. chapter 12C, § 15, the Center’s functions include:

  1. Coordinating the efforts of state healthcare agencies and licensed providers to work as part of a total system of patient safety and to meet their responsibilities for patient safety and medical error reduction
  2. Developing mechanisms for consumers to be included in a statewide program for improving patient safety
  3. Analyzing data and research to support patient safety initiatives
  4. Administering an education and research program for healthcare professionals, facilities, agencies, and the general public to increase awareness  about medical error as well as error prevention strategies
  5. Disseminating information about evidence-based best practices to reduce medical errors and enhance patient safety

During 2014, the Center will conduct a strategic planning process to assess the existing patient safety landscape, identify areas of need that the Center is well-positioned to address, and set achievable short and long term goals and priorities. It intends to engage a broad range of stakeholders in this process.

What should I do if I think a medical error has compromised my health care?

The first thing to do is contact your health care provider and discuss the incident which has occurred. Perhaps the problem is related to poor communication between you and your health care provider and sometimes talking about what happened helps. You might also consider contacting the patient advocate if you received care in a hospital or clinic. The patient advocate can provide you with a neutral person to whom you can direct concerns. Remember, all health providers want to deliver high quality, safe medical care. When problems occur, health care providers and institutions want to hear about them and work to prevent their reoccurrence.

You may also contact one of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts regulatory agencies that investigates complaints about health care quality and safety.

  • The Division of Healthcare Quality, a division of the Massachusetts Department of Public Health investigates complaints against hospitals and other health care facilities and also investigates all complaints of patient abuse and neglect in long term care facilities.

Division of Health Care Quality
Complaint Intake Unit
99 Chauncy Street
Boston, Massachusetts 02111

24 hour consumer complaint line: 
(800) 462-5540 or (617) 753-8150

(617) 753-8165 (to fax complaint forms)

Board of Registration in Medicine
200 Harvard Mill Square, Suite 330
Wakefield, MA 01880
Phone: (781) 876-8200
Fax: (781) 876-8383
TTY: (781) 876-8395
Consumer Hotline: (800) 377-0550