The injuries and deaths that occur accidentally in hospitals seldom make headlines. Contrast that with the media coverage of an airplane crash. Even a near miss receives significant air time and numerous printed pages. Not only do the majority of medial mistakes go unreported, but hospital personnel seem not to learn from them. The same preventable mistakes occur over and over again. Moreover, patients are seldom able to learn which hospitals have better or worse safety records than others in the same categories.
The problem of compromised safety in hospitals is significant. Surgeons in the U.S. operate on the wrong body parts as often as 40 times each week. About a quarter of all hospitalized patients will be injured in some way by a medical error. To put it another way, if medical errors were a disease, it would be the sixth leading cause of death in the United States – just ahead of Alzheimer’s and behind accidents.
However, hospitals are seldom accountable for errors. Very few publish statistics on outcomes, making it almost impossible for patients to choose a hospital systematically when they need one. As a result, patients select hospitals based on factors such as available parking, closeness and neighbour or relative report.
This does not have to be the case. The next blog post will describe five reforms that hospitals can make to keep patients safer – creating online dashboards, publishing safety culture scores, videotaping common procedures such as colonoscopies, making sure that patients have access to physician notes and are empowered to correct them, and removal of patient gag orders that prevent people from speaking out about poor care.
Source: Wall Street Journal, “How to stop hospitals from killing us,” Sep. 21, 2012.