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The NJ Department of Health and Senior Services recently reported that 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 DHSS’s 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. (If you think the latter sounds promising, note that across the state, there were still 63 incidents of foreign objects being left inside people’s bodies after surgery.)

"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

These kinds of medical errors should not be happening at all, but national health care legislation isn’t doing enough to prevent them. All the media coverage of medical malpractice reform and tort reform has distracted people from the terrible reality that more than 100,000 patients die every year from preventable medical errors. Tort reform would do nothing to prevent this, and would only make it harder for patients who are seriously injured to seek justice.

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    Congress and "healthcare reform" as we have it now which focuses on access, insurance reimbursements and pharmaceutical payments will never be able to address patient safety. Eighty percent of medical errors could be eliminated by improving communication between patients and providers. Communication requires caring, time, patience, listening and patient empowerment to participate in the process. The healthcare reform we need is for patients to take control of their care and hold healthcare providers accountable to listen and answer their questions at the point of service. When patients are empowered they will also know that they can and should fire doctors who do not respect them or communicate in ways that put them and their loved ones at risk. When these changes occur we will have healthcare reform and not before.

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