Hospital Errors More Common Than Thought

People are suffering <"">hospital errors more often than first believed. According to Reuters, some one in three Americans are injured over hospital mistakes. U.S. researchers used a new measurement tool to determine hospital mistakes, finding about 10 times more errors than prior estimates, said Reuters.

The disparity in how errors are measured, points to the need for improvement in health care quality. “Without doubt, we’ve seen improvements in health care over the past decade, and even pockets of excellence, but overall progress has been agonizingly slow,” said Susan Dentzer, editor-in-chief of Health Affairs, “which published several studies on a special issue on patient safety,” wrote Reuters.

That issue followed a renowned Institute of Medicine report ten years prior that revealed large gaps in health quality. “It’s clear that we still have a great deal of work to do in order to achieve a health care system that is consistently high-quality—that is, safe, effective, patient-centered, efficient, timely, and devoid of disparities based on race or ethnicity,” Dentzer added, quoted Reuters.

Reuters noted errors can be anything from bedsores to implements left in patients’ bodies following surgery to, even, deadly staph infections. The study was conducted at the University of Utah and led by David Classen; the team looked at the new tool, created at the Institute for Healthcare Improvement in Massachusetts, said Reuters. Two prior methods were also reviewed and the study used data from the medical record and a prior method to locate errors created by the U.S. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHR).

“A key challenge has been agreeing on a yardstick for measuring the safety of care in hospitals,” the researchers wrote, quoted Reuters. To do this, the team reviewed three ways in which to track errors using the same medical records from three different hospitals. Of the 795 patient records reviewed, voluntary reporting unearthed four problems issues, the Agency for Healthcare Research’s quality indicator found 35, and the Institute for Healthcare Improvement’s tool found 354, which is 10 times more than AHR’s method.

“Our findings indicate that two methods commonly used by most care delivery organizations and supported by policy makers to measure the safety of care … fail to detect more than 90 percent of the adverse events that occur among hospitalized patients,” the team wrote, reported Reuters, which said that this can point to even more undetected mistakes.

In a separate study by the same team, led by Jill Van Den Bos and colleagues at the Denver Health practice of the Milliman Inc consulting firm, insurance claims were used to determine the yearly price tag for medical errors that harm patients. The figure was $17.1 billion in 2008 dollars, said Reuters. That study found that 10 medical mistakes made up most of the total cost—2/3—with most being pressure ulcers (bedsores), post-operative infections, and ongoing back pain after back surgery.

We previously wrote that another study conducted over six years and involving 2,341 hospital admissions in North Carolina revealed that 18 percent of patients were subject to at least one safety-related issue, with hospital injuries ranging the gamut from minor problems to dangerous mistakes and even 14 fatalities. The study—which appeared in the New England Journal of Medicine—looked at U.S. 10 hospitals and revealed no decrease in injuries from 2002 to 2007. This followed a 1999 report issued by the Institute of Medicine in which it was discovered that medical errors led to a shocking 98,000 deaths and in excess of one million injuries. And, although North Carolina is ahead of the curve in steps aimed at improving patient safety, the figures are daunting.

In related news, we also previously wrote that Parkland Memorial Hospital allegedly harms some two patients daily, harming them seriously. Part of the issue there involves how doctors are being trained at public teaching hospitals.

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