Some 45% of otolaryngologists who responded to a survey last summer and fall said a medical error had occurred in their practice in the previous six months, according to a new report in the journal Laryngoscope.
Of the 466 physicians who responded to the random and anonymous survey, 210 reported that a medical error had occurred in their practice in all phases of patient care. About 37% of the errors caused major harm and 4% were fatal, the physicians said.
The largest category of errors -- 19% of the total reported -- was technical mistakes during procedures, and 56% of those caused major injury or harm, the study said. About 14% of errors reported were related to medication, and approximately 10% were testing errors, including ordering incorrect tests, failing to review tests or not acting on results.
Younger physicians were more likely than physicians over the age of 50 to report errors (about 60% vs. 40%).
Researchers said they believe the proportion of physicians encountering an error is an "underestimate," suggesting that many physicians may not be trained to recognize errors.
"The probability of an otolaryngologist erring on any individual decision is miniscule," the authors said. "However, because we all make millions of medical decisions, we will all make many errors during our careers. Most errors are made by good or outstanding providers."
Surveys were mailed to about 2,500 members of the American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery.