Medical Errors Third Leading Cause of Death, Senators Told

Cheryl Clark, July 18, 2014

At a Senate subcommittee hearing, hospital quality experts urge lawmakers to establish measures to halt preventable medical errors in hospitals, which kill as many as 400,000 people each year.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's role in quality of care should be greatly expanded to reduce many more types of patient harm, several leading healthcare quality leaders told members of the Senate Subcommittee on Primary Health and Aging Thursday.

"There's no reason to think what [the CDC] has been able to do around [healthcare-associated infections] they can't do in other areas like venous thromboembolism and medication errors, and they can partner with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration," said Ashish Jha, MD, founder of the Initiative on Global Health quality at the Harvard School of Public Health.

"The CDC has a phenomenal track record (through the National Healthcare Safety Network reporting program), this is a public health problem, and the CDC is our public health agency. They have a central role to play."

Peter Pronovost, MD, senior vice president for patient safety and quality at Johns Hopkins Medicine, urged the panel to "charge the CDC with developing monitoring and transparently reporting incident rates on the top causes of harm. They [the NHSN] do it for hospital-acquired infections now and they know how to do it for others."

Subcommittee chairman Sen. Bernie Sanders, (I-VT), called the hearing to publicize statistics showing that preventable medical errors in hospitals kill as many as 400,000 people each year, making it the third most common cause of death in America.

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