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New Medical Safety Practices Could Help Reduce Hospital Errors

Many industries have safety practices designed to address people’s potential to make mistakes. The airline industry, for example, banned side conversations and chatting in the cockpit during critical moments — a move which has significantly reduced accidents over the past 30 years. Electronics, telecommunications, automotive and other industries frequently adhere to the idea of “systems engineering,” in which employees are seen as elements of interconnected processes which must all work together to minimize the possibility of accidents or errors.

And yet, in the health care industry, tragic tales of preventable injuries and deaths are still too common. Nurses at one hospital gave babies a decongestant instead of a vitamin because the bottles were virtually identical, a mistake that proved fatal to the babies. Fatigued new doctors in their residency often make similar errors without realizing them, and no system is in place to track such errors.

In Atlanta, however, Egleston Children’s Hospital is taking a new approach by trying out a safety model that other industries have been implementing for years. After noticing that distracted and over-stressed practitioners tended to make dangerous slip-ups when placing orders for medications, hospital leaders decided to set up “The MedZone” — a quiet area set aside for working without interruptions. By eliminating distractions during this crucial step in providing care, this hospital is taking its cue from the systems-engineering approach to safety.

A Nationwide Push to Eliminate Medical Errors

Dr. Donald Berwick, Administrator of the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, is a major advocate for this approach to health care. “Mistakes can be prevented by redesigning systems to protect human beings from their own frailty,” says Dr. Berwick, noting the example of hospitals in Austin which have practically eliminated birth-related injuries to newborns since developing new, stricter protocols for using oxytocin to induce labor in pregnant women.

CMS’s new Innovation Center has over 180 experts in the field of health policy working on ways for the federal government to improve the quality of health care across the country, including California. Berwick is also gathering hospitals, clinics and providers together in a campaign against infections acquired at hospitals, as well as readmissions.

The statistics facing their initiative are daunting. The Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences estimates up to 98,000 deaths each year are caused by medical errors, and the combined costs associated with cases of medical error (including health care, lost income, etc.) could reach $29 billion. An older study in California found that 0.8 percent of patients in hospitals were there because they had previously received negligent care or were injured by negligence in a hospital itself. That would imply that about a half a million Californians have been injured or killed by such negligence since 1988.

When faced with numbers like these, it appears to be clear that there is a need for better safety practices in America’s hospitals and clinics today. If you have been seriously injured while undergoing hospital treatment, contact the medical malpractice attorneys at Corsiglia, McMahon & Allard, L.L.P. at (408) 289-1417.

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My experience with Attorney Brad Corsiglia during my recent medical malpractice case was nothing short of amazing given the very stressful circumstances. I was fortunate to find Brad highly recommended from a mutual contact and from the very beginning of the process, Brad was truly engaged and knowledgeable in understanding my case and providing input on what avenues were available to me. Michelle M.