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Medical mistakes must be reduced

Patients need to trust doctors. Medical mistakes are dangerous and expensive. Doctors understandably dislike making or admitting to a medical mistake. However, these errors happen and must be addressed to reduce similar mistakes in the future. Negligence of hospital staff is not a local Pennsylvania concern, but a national issue.

Fortunately, there has been progress reducing a formerly growing problem. Patient infections while in the hospital have become more common in the past decade. With tireless work by medical leaders, patient groups and organizations like the Institute for Healthcare Improvement, hospital medical professionals are reducing the number and severity of infections.

Newer legislation in 30 states requires that hospitals report the number of "preventable" infections their patients contract. Along with more intense medical education regarding preventing this problem and new legislation, the number of infections is decreasing. In the past few years, some hospitals have achieved up to a 58 percent decrease in patient infections.

Unfortunately, other life-threatening mistakes continue to be a serious safety problem. Over a decade ago, the Institute of Medicine estimated annual patient deaths from medical errors at between 44,000 and 98,000. A recent study by the Inspector General at the Department of Health and Human Services disclosed that the level of patient hospital deaths from preventable mistakes has not changed in the past 13 years.

Along with the tragic human consequences of preventable medical mistakes, the cost is staggering. These needless tragedies cost Medicare alone an additional $2 billion each year in additional medical care needed to fix the results of these errors. Instead of addressing and improving the effort to reduce medical mistakes, the only apparent reaction is for the profession to increase their defensive medical actions, including using more tests and diagnostic procedures.

While this approach may help shield medical professionals–at least, marginally–from malpractice lawsuits, it does not address or reduce the number of or attack the causes of medical mistakes. Every patient–and future patient–deserves to be better protected from preventable medical errors.

Source: The Atlantic, "Cut Medical Mistakes in Half by 2017 to Save Lives and Money," David B. Kendall, May 23, 2012

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