Prevention of Medical Errors

Preventing Medical Errors in Behavioral HealthMedical errors continue to be a major issue in today’s health care arena. Yet it’s been over a decade since the eye opening report from the National Academies’ Institute of Medicine Report To Err is Human: Building a Safer Health System (1999): revealed these statistics:

  • Approximately 50-100,000 Americans die each year from medical errors
  • Preventable medical errors cause an additional one million injuries to Americans
  • Medical errors cause more deaths than breast cancer, AIDS or even car accidents
  • 7,000 people die from medication errors alone
  • Repeat tests, disability, and death due to error cost the US $17-38 billion each year

Less dramatically publicized – but often equally damaging to clients – are those mistakes that can occur in the practice of behavioral health. Such errors generally fall into the categories of:

  • Improper diagnosis
  • Breach of confidentiality
  • Failure to maintain accurate clinical records
  • Failure to comply with mandatory abuse reporting laws
  • Inadequate assessment of potential for violence
  • Failure to detect medical conditions presenting as psychiatric disorders (or vice-versa)

Such errors of omission or commission can result in lasting damage to clients just like those that occur in the medical arena. Diagnostic errors lead directly to one of two outcomes: either applying improper – and therefore ineffective and unneeded – treatment, and/or the failure to apply effective treatment. Breaches of privacy and confidentiality can precipitate a cascade of adverse events for clients, often reaching far into not only their personal lives, but even into relationship and occupational spheres.

Mental health professionals are required by several levels of ethical and legal standards to maintain accurate clinical records in order to assure continuity in the course of a client’s treatment. The failure to do so can cause harm resulting from the loss of a clear and coherent course of therapy. Failure to comply with mandatory abuse reporting laws and inadequate assessment of potential for violence lead to obvious dangers to clients and others. Finally, confusing medical conditions with psychiatric ones can lead to damaging – even tragic –consequences for clients due to the failure to offer or refer for appropriate treatment.

Preventing Medical Errors in Behavioral Health, a 2-hour online continuing education course, is intended to increase clinicians’ awareness of the types of errors that can occur within mental health practice, how such errors damage clients, and numerous ways they can be prevented. Its emphasis is on areas within mental health practice that carry the potential for “medical” errors. Examples include improper diagnosis, breach of confidentiality, failure to maintain accurate clinical records, failure to comply with mandatory abuse reporting laws, inadequate assessment of potential for violence, and the failure to detect medical conditions presenting as psychiatric disorders (or vice-versa). It includes detailed plans for error reduction and prevention like root cause analysis, habitual attention to patient safety, and ethical and legal guidelines. The course includes numerous case illustrations to help demonstrate common and not-so-common behavioral health errors and specific practices that can help clinicians become proactive in preventing them. There is a new section on preventing medical errors in the use of technology. *This course satisfies the medical errors requirement for license renewal of Florida Mental Health Counselors, Social Workers & MFTs.

Professional Development Resources is approved as a provider of continuing education by the Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB #1046); the National Board of Certified Counselors (NBCC #5590); the American Psychological Association (APA); the National Association of Alcoholism & Drug Abuse Counselors (NAADAC #000279); and the Florida Board of Clinical Social Work, Marriage & Family Therapy, and Mental Health Counseling (#BAP346). All courses are submitted to CE Broker within one week of completion.