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Medical errors: The third leading cause of death in America

A new Senate report illustrates the harm caused by preventable medical errors, which kill an average of 325,000 hospital patients each year. The total cost of medical errors nearly reaches $20 billion a year.

There is a lot of room for improvement, as medical mistakes are often caused by basic communication errors or a failure to follow best practices.

The Senate report released by Senator Barbara Boxer lists nine leading causes of death:

  1. Adverse drug events
  2. Catheter-associated urinary tract infections
  3. Central line-associated blood stream infections
  4. Injuries from falls and immobility
  5. Obstetrical adverse events
  6. Pressure ulcers (bedsores)
  7. Surgical site infections
  8. Venous thromboembolism (blood clots)
  9. Ventilator-associated pneumonia

Boxer's report isn't all doom and gloom. She writes that hospitals have had success increasing patient safety using some unique techniques. One hospital even rewarded staff members who conformed to best hygiene practices by entering them in prize drawings.

Still, issues such as alarm fatigue - the phenomenon where medical staff hears hundreds of alarms each day, making it difficult to detect true emergencies - will continue to cause preventable medical mistakes for the foreseeable future.

Hospital executives and industry leaders should pay close attention to the details in the Senator's report. Some of the recommendations are simple and would take mere weeks or days to implement.

Source: Daily Democrat, "Boxer: 325,000 Deaths In Hospitals Due To Errors," Susan Abram, April 27, 2014

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