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Health Care Reform – Not Enough Attention to Medical Error Prevention

5 comments

According to a report just released by the NJ Department of Health and Senior Services, in 2007, hospital doctors, nurses and other medical workers committed nearly 9,400 "serious medical errors” that threatened patient health by leading to infections, blood clots, and other unnecessary complications.

The report is the first in the state to compare hospitals with one another, showing exactly where the errors are occurring. Together, New Jersey’s hospitals fared worse than the national average on numbers of post-surgical infections and frequency of wounds re-opening. In other areas, such as surgical equipment being left inside patients after surgery or the wrong blood type being given, New Jersey fared better than other states.

AARP’S Kelmar said matching the national rate in mistakes is not good enough. She noted there were 63 incidents statewide of a foreign object left in the body after surgery — a rate that is about the national norm.

"The expected rate of occurrence for this incident is zero,” Kelmar said.

"Disconcerting numbers of preventable medical errors are occurring in our health facilities. Now consumers will know these results,” said Patricia Kelmar, associate state director for advocacy for AARP-New Jersey, which pushed for the tougher reporting requirements. "Equally important, every hospital can see their own levels of mistakes compared to others, which we hope will encourage them to make the changes necessary to improve patient safety throughout the state." -The StarLedger

While state hospital “report cards” are a great step on the road to reducing medical errors, there is still not enough focus on preventable medical errors in the national health care legislation. All the talk of medical malpractice reform and tort reform has taken attention away from the real issue, which is that more than 100,000 patients die every year from preventable medical errors. Tort reform will do nothing to prevent this, and will only make it more difficult for patients who are needlessly harmed to get the compensation they deserve.

5 Comments

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  1. Mike Bryant says:
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    It may be the case that tort reform will actually kill even more people. Who are the doctors that will come back? If so many are already really doing “defensive medicine” how can they be trusted to not take more advantage? Hopefully, in the long run, reports like this will lead to less loss of life.

  2. Michael Kirsch, M.D. says:
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    Gentlemen, Many of us are skeptical of the often quoted number of 100,000 folks that we physicians are negligently sending to heaven each year. Nevertheless, I agree that tort reform, which I support, will not improve medical quality. It remedies other deficiencies. Nevertheless, I don’t think the current system improves physicians’ performance, although I know that the bar disputes this. Paradoxicaly, I believe that it diminishes quality by generating defensive medicine, which exposes the public to the risks and expense of unnecessary testing. Those attorneys who minimize this reality, in my view, are simply uninformed about how physicians function and what we do to try to minimize our fear of being sued. http://www.MDWhistleblower.blogspot.com

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    So called “defensive medicine” caused by fear of lawsuits can’t be blamed for unnecessary tests, procedures and prescriptions in a system where doctors get paid for each service they provide. The state of Texas, where tort reform now prevents nearly all malpractice lawsuits from going to trial, has some of the highest medical costs per patient in the country, because its doctors systematically over-care for their patients (and make $$$ for it). See Dr. Atul Gawande on this: http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2009/06/01/090601fa_fact_gawande

  4. Michael Kirsch, M.D. says:
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    I know the Gawande essay well. Obviously, there are many factors that increase medical costs. Are you familiar with the Dartmouth Atlas of Health Care? Defensive medicine is an important cause unnecessary care and expense (measured in tens of billions of dollars). This fact, now validated by the Congressional Budget Office is accepted by all stakeholders, including many attorneys. Obviously, some reject the evidence, which I suggest is well beyond a reasonable doubt.
    http://www.MDWhistleblower.blogspot.com

  5. Penny Lane says:
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    Doctors, Lawyers, Engineers, Architects, etc. should take more aggressive steps to get rid of the bad apples that cause most of the problems. The Medical Societies clearly don’t do enough to police their own. Most med mal claims are caused by repeat offenders and the good docs suffer.