Hospitals Aiming for Fewer Errors and Better Patient Care

About 10 years ago a study from the Institute of Medicine was released. It estimated that 100,000 people per year died in hospitals around the country from preventable errors. Ohio residents will be disappointed to know the situation has only worsened.

In one case highlighted in a recent Kaiser Health News piece, an eighty-year-old great-grandmother had a leg amputated because of a foot infection that developed while she was recuperating in the hospital from a stroke. The woman developed the infection because hospital staff had not changed her stockings as often as they were required to do so. The woman died five months after her foot blackened.

In another case highlighted in the article, a doctor removed a healthy ovary and a fallopian tube from a woman instead of the cyst on the other ovary as he was supposed to do. The woman could now be infertile. These are just two examples of preventable errors that happen far too often and cause considerable harm.

You would think removing the wrong body part would not be a difficult error to prevent or would be a rare occurrence but - according to the Joint Commission, an organization that accredits U.S. hospitals - wrong-site surgeries occur up to forty times a week. A big part of the problem is that doctors also do not think this kind of thing could or would happen, so they are not careful enough or do not allow others input into what they are about to do in surgery.

Doctors, Check and Double-Check That List

Many of these preventable errors occur because hospitals are busy, stressful places. This creates an environment where patient safety may be overlooked. Employees too often do not follow basic safety procedures like washing hands before treating patients.

If hospitals were required to share patient data with the public, that could encourage change because the public could compare different hospitals' safety records when choosing where to seek medical care.

In addition, other steps hospitals are taking to improve patient safety and reduce preventable errors include:

  • Creating checklists that everyone involved in a procedure has a part in checking off
  • Encouraging hand washing
  • Changing organizational structure to improve communication
  • Using safer equipment
  • Making patient records electronic

Many doctors do not like checklists because they believe they can keep everything in their head, and the hierarchical nature of a hospital may keep doctors from seeking the input of the team around them. More and more, however, doctors are realizing the benefits of checklists as they learn how effective the tools can be in preventing errors. It has been pointed out to them that pilots have been using checklists as a team for decades. It is truly a simple and effective way to prevent devastating errors.

Although hospitals say they have seen improvements, they acknowledge there is still a long way to go. Even though there may be a long road ahead, more hospitals implementing these simple steps will reduce errors and injuries and improve patient care.

If you or someone you know has been harmed by an error or neglect in a hospital, contact an experienced medical malpractice attorney for an assessment of your case.