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Medical Errors Stubbornly Common, Studies Find

John Commins, for HealthLeaders Media, December 2, 2010

Ironically, North Carolina was chosen for the study because of that state's recent emphasis on reducing medical errors. "It's a fair study. It points out that there is much more work to be done despite the fact that we have had some very intense efforts in this state over the last five years," says Don Dalton, vice president and spokesman for the North Carolina Hospital Association. "A little to our disappointment, the years of the study didn't coincide with some of our years of greatest improvement. We created a quality center here in 2005 so we have done a lot in the last five years and three of those five years would not have been included in the study."

Dalton says NCHA and its member hospitals have worked hard to reduce central line bloodstream infections and surgical site infection. "More importantly we have done a lot of work with hospitals around the issue of creating just cultures, where hospitals are taking greater responsibility for changes in the system that would eliminate the opportunity for harm, and healthcare professionals continuing to take personal responsibility for their actions. We feel like it is the system work that has the greatest opportunity to improve the quality of care," Dalton says.

In some respects, Foster says, the two studies' results also reflect the improving quality of data collection and identification of hospital errors. "What I see in these two studies is that we have learned an enormous amount about safety and our risks to patients, what might constitute an error and new ways to identify them which are much more robust than the original methodology used in the Harvard Medical Practice study which was the foundation of the IOMs original estimate," Foster says.

 "In addition we now see more things as potentially preventable than we did a decade ago," Foster says. "The biggest example is central line bloodstream infection. We used to think of them as having a certain level of inevitability and now we know we can get very close to zero with them. That's terrific news for patients but it does mean the count of things that are preventable has gone up."

See Also:
Hospital Infection Reporting Standards Inconsistent
A Call for Standardized Infection Detection Practices
Failure In Central Line Infection Prevention, Survey Says


John Commins is a senior editor with HealthLeaders Media.

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3 comments on "Medical Errors Stubbornly Common, Studies Find"


Dev Raheja (12/9/2010 at 8:04 PM)
I agrre that medical errors are stubbornly common. The bad news is that they are going to remain common for a long time. First, there is a lack of competion because competitors copy each othere in the name of practicing evidence based medicine. There are many other excuses. I have covered them in my new book "Safer Hospital Care."

Shea Steinberg (12/6/2010 at 1:46 PM)
With the ARRA HITECH Stimulus, I believe a portion of these common medical errors will soon dissipate as more medical providers are encouraged to use <a href="http://www.practicefusion.com?utm_source=comment&utm_medium=blog&utm_campaign=PFLS">electronic health records</a> . Paper records are one of the reasons why so many patients are misdiagnosed and why there are so many medical errors. We can easily erase those errors by going digital. -Shea Steinberg Jr. Social Media Specialist

kit (12/6/2010 at 12:25 PM)
Please provide input If my data is incorrect. *The aggregate work showed that the majority of errors were not life threatening. * Inconsistent staffing patterns which may contribute to morbidity & mortality. For instance GME laws have increased the number of junior MD handing information off. Furthermore, even the Magnet hospitals haven't kept pace with NNU nursing ratios. Moreover, there is no clear work advantages found in these facilities. Finally, we have no survey data to show us that senior nursing staff will stay in high acuity units. In fact, there is some anecdotal data showing the converse. * Finally, many hospitals contain patients for end of life (EOL) care. Including these EOL patients in your data will increase the adverse events significantly.