What Can Be Done To Reduce Medical Errors?

The majority of hospitals and doctors in this country never admit that their conduct resulted in patient injury or death.  This lack of transparency and accountability is a lost opportunity to improve patient safety and prevent medical errors. Recently, a few hospitals have started to admit mistakes, apologizing and attempting to fix what went wrong.

Or, as Joanne Kenen, senior writer in the Health Policy Program at the New America Foundation put it in a foundation blog: disclose, apologize and fix. “It means, or should mean, they say something like “You had a bad outcome. We are sorry. We will try to help you while we investigate what happened. If it was our fault, we will take financial and moral responsibility. We will do our best to make sure it never happens again to anyone else,” Kenen writes.

According to a 2016 study conducted by Johns Hopkins, medical errors are the 3rd leading cause of death in the United States. Infections from hospital stays lead to 100,000 deaths annually; medication mistakes injure some 1.3 million people.

Medication Errors

Knowing what leads to errors is a step toward addressing and preventing errors. The American Hospital Association has listed the following as a few of the leading causes of medication errors:

  • Not knowing all of a patient’s information, including allergies, other medications and past illnesses
  • Poor labeling of drugs, especially when repackaged into smaller groupings
  • Information about medications/drugs that is unavailable
  • Miscommunication through illegible handwriting, confusion of drugs and misplaced zeros and decimal points

Surgical Errors

The use of a verbal checklist has been shown to reduce the number of surgical errors. A study showed that death rates dropped by almost half, 1.5 percent to 0.8 percent, and that other complications fell from 11 percent to 7 percent when a verbal checklist was used, The checklist used in the study had a list of steps to follow before, during and after the surgery. While many hospitals have a system of written checklists, the study shows that they use of a verbal checklist may decrease surgical errors.

By taking responsibility for errors, identifying the causes of and creating effective methods for reducing errors, hospitals appear to be on their way to making some progress.  Reducing and eliminating preventable injury due to medical errors is critical to patient safety.

If you have been the victim of medical malpractice, seek the counsel of an experienced attorney.

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