The Takeaway: Top Scams Targeting Older Adults; Hospital Errors Go Unreported

Scam Alert:  The National Council on Aging has released a list of the ' Top 10 Scams' targeting older adults. None of these are anything new-in fact,  we've cautioned about most of these scams before-but it's still a good round-up, and a good reminder, of what to look out for.

Topping the NCOA's list? Medicare fraud. While that term usually refers to scam artists (or unscrupulous doctors) bilking the government for Medicare money, NCOA is talking about scammers who pose as Medicare representatives to get folks to give them personal information.

Counterfeit drug scams are also growing in popularity-since 2000, the FDA has investigated an average of 20 such cases per year, up from five a year in the 1990s, NCOA reports. Mostly perpetuated by bogus internet pharmacies, "the danger is that besides paying money for something that will not help a person's medical condition, victims may purchase unsafe substances that can inflict even more harm." Want to buy from Internet pharmacies safely?  Check out our guide to buying prescription drugs online.

Other scams on the agency's list include funeral and cemetery scams; snake-oil anti-aging products; fake telemarketing; computer viruses and email phishing scams; bogus investment schemes (a la Bernie Madoff or all those fake Nigerian princes who so desperately want to send you money); reverse mortgage scams; sweepstakes or lotto scams; and the infamous ' Grandparent Scam,' in which scammers pose as a grandchild in need.

See Also: 5 Scams To Watch For In 2012 >> 

According to NCOA, it's not just wealthy older adults who are targeted-low-income older adults are at risk, too. And it's not always strangers who perpetrate these crimes; in fact, over 90 percent of all reported elder abuse is committed by an older person's own family members.

Hospital Errors Go Unreported: A new report from the Department of Health and Human Services says only one out of every seven errors, accidents or other events that harm Medicare patients while hospitalized gets reported. Some of the most serious medical errors, including those that resulted in the deaths of Medicare patients, went unmentioned. And even when errors are reported and investigated, hospitals rarely change anything about their procedure to prevent future problems, according to the report

This isn't just dangerous (and totally disheartening to hear)-it's violating the conditions of being paid by Medicare, under which hospitals are required to "track medical errors and adverse patient events" and "analyze their causes" to improve care. But hospital employees often don't recognize "what constitutes patient harm" or do not realize that particular events should be reported, said HHS Inspector General Daniel R. Levinson.

In some cases, he said, employees assumed someone else would report the episode, or they thought it was so common that it did not need to be reported, or "suspected that the events were isolated incidents unlikely to recur."

It all sounds like something of a cop to me; how could health care workers not realize that things like severe bedsores, patient infections, delirium from overmedication or excessive bleeding linked to improper use of blood thinners constituted 'patient harm?' But in order to clear up any confusion, Medicare officials said they'd develop a list of 'reportable events' that hospitals and employees could reference.

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Photo: John Rensten/Getty Images

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