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It may come as a shock to many people to learn that medical errors are currently one of the leading causes of death here in the United States. However, it may come as an even bigger shock to learn that the vast majority of these deaths attributable to medical errors were altogether preventable.
Indeed, statistics show that anywhere from 210,000 to 440,000 Americans lose their lives because of preventable errors in hospital settings each year with things like hospital-acquired infections, patient falls and drug reactions taking a devastating toll.
Apart from this unimaginable loss of life precipitated by preventable errors in hospital settings, statistics show they cost a staggering $19.5 billion per year in direct costs and as much as $1 trillion per year in economic costs (lost productivity, etc.).
Fortunately, these unacceptable figures have not gone overlooked, as one U.S. Senator has mounted a crusade to help introduce meaningful change and, more significantly, save lives.
Back in February, Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) asked 283 acute care hospitals in her home state to share what steps they were taking, if any, to help combat the epidemic of preventable medical errors.
Since that time, her office has published two reports discussing the proactive steps reported by some of these hospitals with the latest iteration being released earlier this month.
While the report outlines how many of the responding hospitals have taken similar steps to keep patients safe from preventable medical errors (i.e., elevating patients’ heads 30-45 degrees to prevent the onset of pneumonia), it also outlines how some of them are trying more novel approaches.
For instance, one hospital now uses UV technology to sterilize patient rooms, prohibits physicians from performing surgery if they have open wounds, bandages or casts, and bans the use of home-laundered scrubs. Still another instituted a program in which medical staff observed practicing proper hand hygiene are entered into a prize drawing.
According to Senator Boxer, the report findings are not only encouraging, but should be considered and incorporated by hospitals across the U.S.
“We have the opportunity to pull more than 200,000 people back from disaster every year by preventing medical errors,” she said. “If we all work together — doctors, nurses, hospital administrators, patients, patient advocates, medical technology pioneers, public health experts and federal officials — we can prevent so much heartbreak for families and stop these tragedies before they occur.”
Here’s hoping that hospitals here in Pennsylvania take note of this report and do everything within their power to keep patients safe.
Source: Office of U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer, “Boxer releases updated report on medical errors,” July 3, 2014