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Many victims of medical error have PTSD and other problems

Published: 16th July 2020 Last updated: 16th July 2020

Every year in the Netherlands, an estimated minimum of 185,000 adults fall victim to serious and less serious medical errors. A new longitudinal population screening shows that they have mental, work-related, financial, religious, and legal problems much more often than do others. Approximately 28% suffer serious PTSD symptoms. The screening was done by CentERdata, Fonds Slachtofferhulp (Victim Support Fund), Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, and Tilburg University (NETHLAB).

Approximately 56% of victims of medical error have one or more mental, work-related, religious, relationship, financial, or legal problems, the screening shows. For adults who have not had these or other potentially traumatic experiences, that percentage is considerably lower: 19%. This striking difference cannot be attributed to problems victims of medical error had before they had these pervasive experiences; the aspects factored in by the statistical analyses include the impact of these existing problems (such as existing physical problems).

Medical errors attract a great deal of attention in scientific literature, but only a very small number of studies focus on the problems victims of medical errors have to contend with. Approximately 4,700 people took part in the Dutch population screening of 2018-2019. In these two years, 79 participants were victims of medical errors and 2,828 participants did not have potentially traumatic experiences.

This is the first study, internationally too, to have examined to what extent the prevalence of problems in these victims is higher than in non-victims. It is also the first study to have monitored victims for a year to identify what problems they are facing. The results indicate that care offered to victims of medical errors should not be restricted to essential medical care, but should include addressing mental, work-related, religious, financial, and legal problems.

The screening is part of an extensive multiannual study, which itself is part of the VICTIMS (Victims in Modern Society) project of Fonds Slachtofferhulp. The screening recently appeared in the authoritative, peer-reviewed scientific journal European Journal of Public Health.

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