- Posted by Chris Elvidge
- On May 12, 2016
A startling statistic released in the beginning of May should have been more shocking to patients and consumers of health care than it appeared. Part of its lack of impact can be attributed to the fact that the statistic has remained overlooked for a very long time– until now.
Preventable medical errors persist as the No. 3 killer in the U.S. – just below heart disease and cancer – claiming over 250,000 lives on average each year (many studies put the number upwards to 400,000 based on reporting inaccuracies). Medical error is not reported on death certificates, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has no “medical error” category in its annual report on deaths and mortality.
In addition to the obvious pain and suffering of a family from a preventable death, the cost associated from medical error-related deaths are in the range of $735 billion to $980 billion. Quality care is less expensive care. It is better, more efficient, and by definition, less wasteful. It is the right care, at the right time, every time. It should mean that far fewer patients are harmed or injured. Obviously, quality care is not being delivered consistently throughout U.S. hospitals. Whatever the measure, poor quality is costing payers (insurers/patients) and society a great deal.
Human error is inevitable. Although we cannot eliminate human error, we can better measure the problem to design safer systems mitigating its frequency, visibility, and consequences. Strategies to reduce death from medical care should include three steps: 1.) making errors more visible when they occur so their effects can be intercepted; 2.) having remedies at hand to help patients; and 3.) making errors less frequent by following principles that take human limitations into account and what we can accomplish.
Health care leaders and professionals are focusing more on quality and patient safety in ways they never have before because the economics of quality have changed substantially. Hospitals have not definitely embraced the catastrophic nature of medical errors in their facilities. With the successive reports year in and year out, there is a heightened sense of the issue, and with a disciplined approach to quality care not only will lives be saved, but millions of dollars as well.
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