Why do Medical Mistakes Happen in Hospitals?

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A federally funded review of patient safety provides a prescription for why patients suffer from preventable medical errors in U.S. hospitals.

The Government Accountability Office investigates how wisely or unwisely the federal government spends taxpayer dollars. Since a large portion of the federal budget is spent on healthcare, Congress in 2014 ordered the GAO to look into unsafe practices at hospitals that lead to patient harm. The review was limited to six hospitals of various sizes, and the GAO recently released its findings.

An adverse medical event occurs when a patient is hurt by a mistake in medical treatment. The GAO's report uncovered three issues hospitals claim stymie their efforts to reduce adverse events and better protect patients.

Hospitals not Investing Resources to Investigate Medical Errors

The first is sufficiently investigating adverse events. The hospitals in the survey said that getting useful information on medical mistakes is difficult due to the significant financial and manpower investments that are required. They assert that expensive outside experts and technology typically are needed to gather data to properly record and review patient adverse events.

Some of the hospitals in the study also claim that the process can be so slow that even when medical mistakes are adequately investigated, the information ultimately reported can be out of date and inadequate for eliminating future errors.

The second roadblock to improving hospital patient safety, according to hospitals in the GAO study, is identifying and establishing effective protocols. When hospitals have good data for a particular type of adverse event, they often institute remedies on a trial-by-error basis. They may try several options simultaneously. If the error is reduced, hospitals don't always pinpoint what effort ultimately is responsible.

Doctors Don't Always Follow Steps to Prevent Adverse Events

Even if a hospital has good data on an error and identifies effective patient safety measures, this study reported a third issue: getting hospital staff to implement them on a regular basis. Two factors cited that can impede the consistent use of effective patient safety measures in hospitals are:

  • The challenge of getting physicians to immediately change their long-held behaviors that are counter to the new patient safety protocols
  • The challenge of constantly monitoring patients to ensure that the new measures remain effective and also are not ignored over time

Medical professionals and institutions are responsible for providing a reasonable standard of care that avoids needlessly endangering patients. Regardless of challenges - financial or cultural - they should take every prudent step to end preventable mistakes that inflict catastrophic harm for patients and their families. When they don't, healthcare providers need to be held accountable.

If you had a loved one die or if you suffered a serious injury due to a medical error, consult anĀ attorney who handles medical malpractice claims to pursue financial compensation for your tragic losses.

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

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