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Would publicizing medical errors make them less frequent?

As we've talked about in past blog posts, medical errors happen way more frequently that we'd like to think. In January, we referenced a study from Johns Hopkins University that found that at least 4,000 medical mistakes occur annually. These mistakes can range from forgetting to remove a sponge from a surgical patient to performing an operation on the wrong patient. Regardless of their severity, none are good and all are threatening to the patients' well-being. So, how can we keep these mistakes out of New Haven hospitals and other medical facilities across the country?

There have been several proposals for reducing the number of medical errors. Some have proposed simple checklists that nurses and doctors can use to ensure everything is in order with a patient. While checklists have been proven to prevent errors, not all hospitals have mandated their use. Most hospitals have a voluntary reporting system, but they barely scratch the surface when it comes to errors that occur. In most facilities, 90 percent of mistakes go unreported. Now, however, a new idea has been proposed.

Some believe that public accountability for errors will substantially decrease the frequency with which they occur. The Johns Hopkins study found that having an outside party review medical charts for errors is the best way to catch them and determine why they happened. With digital records increasingly common, the researchers say it won't be too difficult to implement an automatic check of charts.

In addition to this review, the researchers have recommended a national reporting system for surgical errors. This would get all hospitals to use the same standards when reporting errors and would increase accountability since the information would be made public.

While sometimes mistakes happen, there is no excuse for preventable errors to occur. Hopefully health care facilities in New Haven and elsewhere will take recommendations for keeping patients safe seriously.

Source: Bloomberg, "To Reduce Medical Errors, Make Them Public," Feb. 3, 2013

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