Nightmare stories of nurses giving potent drugs meant for one patient to another and surgeons removing the wrong body parts  have dominated recent headlines about medical care. Lest you assume those cases are the exceptions, a new study by patient safety researchers provides some context. Their analysis, published in the BMJ on Tuesday, shows that “medical errors” in hospitals and other health care facilities are incredibly common and may now be the third leading cause of death in the United States — clai

Makary said he and co-author Michael Daniel, also from Johns Hopkins, conducted the analysis to shed more light on a problem that many hospitals and health care facilities try to avoid talking about.

Though all providers extol patient safety and highlight the various safety committees and protocols they have in place, few provide the public with specifics on actual cases of harm due to mistakes. Moreover, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention doesn’t require reporting of errors in the data it collects about deaths through billing codes, making it hard to see what’s going on at the national level.

The CDC should update its vital statistics reporting requirements so that physicians must report whether there was any error that led to a preventable death, Makary said.

“We all know how common it is,” he said. “We also know how infrequently it’s openly discussed.”

Kenneth Sands, who directs health care quality at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, an affiliate of Harvard Medical Schoeol, said that the surprising thing about medical errors is the limited change that has taken place since the IOM report came out. Only hospital-acquired infections have shown improvement. “The overall numbers haven’t changed, and that’s discouraging and alarming,” he said.

The types of errors found in that report:

  • Diagnostic Error or delay in diagnosis
  • Failure to employ indicated tests
  • Use of outmoded tests or therapy
  • Failure to act on results of monitoring or testing
  • Treatment Error in the performance of an operation, procedure, or test Error in administering the treatment
  • Error in the dose or method of using a drug
  • Avoidable delay in treatment or in responding to an abnormal test
  • Inappropriate (not indicated) care
  • Preventive Failure to provide prophylactic treatment
  • Inadequate monitoring or follow-up of treatment
  • Other Failure of communication
  • Equipment failure
  • SOURCE: Leape, Lucian; Lawthers, Ann G.; Brennan, Troyen

Source: Researchers: Medical errors now third leading cause of death in United States – The Washington Post

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