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Hospitals Should Protect Patients from Dangerous Medical Errors

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March 14 – 20 was Patient Safety Awareness Week.  With some estimates that hundreds of thousands of people die every year in the United States from a preventable medical error, this is an important annual exercise.

A 2013 study of medical errors (“A New, Evidence-based Estimate of Patient Harms Associated with Hospital Care”) concluded that more than 400,000 people die annually from preventable harm they suffered during medical care.

Main Causes of Preventable Harm to Patients

When patients are seriously injured or die from such harm, these incidents are called preventable adverse events.  The study identified five main medical errors that cause preventable adverse events that patients suffer:

·         Errors of commission – the wrong action or the right action performed incorrectly

·         Errors of omission – an obvious action needed but not taken

·         Errors of communication – between care providers, and between providers and patients

·         Errors of context – failure to account in treatment plan for patient’s unique needs

·         Diagnostic errors – wrong diagnosis, delayed diagnoses, missed diagnosis

A subsequent study, published in 2016 by Johns Hopkins University, estimated that preventable medical errors kill more than 250,000 people a year in the United States (“Medical Error—The Third Leading Cause of Death in the US”).

So there’s little doubt that Patient Safety Awareness Week is a good idea. Several medical-related organizations helped observe it this year.

Poor Communication that Leads to Medical Errors

One was the American Society for Health Care Risk Management, which is an organization comprised of hospital executives with varying responsibilities.  This year it offered its members several tips for enhancing patient safety in conjunction with Patient Safety Awareness Week.

As with the 2013 study, ASHRM spotlights communication errors that can lead to patient harm. Poor communications, especially during patient handoffs when one medical shift replaces another, are potentially very dangerous. The ASHRM forwards several recommendations to hospital executives for improving patient handoff communications, including:

·         Standardized training for medical care providers for successful patient handoffs

·         Enhanced training using role playing, simulation and other measures

·         Employ positive reinforcement to improvement patient handoff communications

Plan to Protect Patients from Dangerous Medical Mistakes

The Institute for Healthcare Improvement is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to improve patient safety.  It too promoted Patient Safety Awareness Week, offering a comprehensive plan to reduce dangerous medical errors: “Safer Together – A National Action Plan to Advance Patient Safety”.

Referencing the fact that preventable medical harm is a common cause of death in this country, the IHI white paper includes 17 steps for improving patient safety, which encompass multiple aspects of the healthcare experience that effect patient outcomes:

·         Culture and leadership that actively promotes patient safety as a core value

·         Provider engagement with patients and families that establishes trust

·         Protecting the physical and mental well-being of medical care staff

·         Establishment of learning systems that routinely and more consistently encourage patient safety

While nurses, doctors and other medical care providers make individual errors that harm patients, the emphasis of the efforts of both these organizations during Patient Safety Awareness Week are broader.  They focus on healthcare executives and organizations, which should lead the way in establishing proper protocols designed to eliminate preventable medical errors.

If you suffered significant harm or a loved one died unexpectedly during medical care, a preventable error may have been the cause.  Speak with a personal injury lawyer, who can conduct a thorough investigation to get you answers and the just compensation you deserve.

The choice of a lawyer is an important decision that should not be based solely on advertisements.

Authored by Gray, Ritter & Graham, P.C., posted in Blog March 25, 2021