Improving Patient Safety
I came across an editorial that was published in the November 11, 2010 issue of USA Today concerning the number of patients who die every year due to medical ‘adverse events’. They cited a recent report from the Department of Health and Human Services which estimated that 180,000 patients die every year from ‘adverse events’ in the healthcare field. While this number is extremely alarming, I fear that it is actually a low number, based on the reluctance of doctors to report ‘adverse events’ due to the liability involved.
On a related note, in Colorado, there have recently been TV ads running promoting ‘A Safer and Healthier Colorado’. These spots are promoted by an organization called “Think About It Colorado”, who is trying to open a dialog between doctors and patients and other providers about how we can reduce the number of ‘adverse events’ throughout the medical community.
According to their website, Think About It Colorado is a public awareness campaign designed to spark a statewide conversation about patient safety and to drive reform in this critical area. Our campaign asks Coloradans to “Imagine a Safer and Healthier Colorado” because that’s the first step towards making it a reality.
Some of the areas that they are targeting are:
More openness between doctors and patients concerning medical treatments
Learning from the mistakes of other medical practitioners
Providing compensation for patients who are injured from medical mistakes
You can find out more about the organization at www.thinkaboutitcolorado.org area that I want to emphasize is the area of learning from the mistakes of others in order to improve the overall medical treatment for patients. However, as the system currently operates, there are many barriers to an open, honest discussion between all parties to improve the safety of the healthcare delivery system. When any medical mistake occurs the first reaction is for the doctor or hospital involved is to become defensive, circle the wagons, and deny that anything adverse had happened. The legal climate in America dictates that the medical community reacts this way in order to protect itself from malpractice claims. Any open admission of a mistake or error almost guarantees a huge malpractice award for the injured patient.
While I agree that a patient injured through true medical malpractice should be compensated for their actual damages, the excessive amount of malpractice awards discourages doctors and hospitals from discussing medical treatment problems and finding ways to prevent them from happening to other patients.
As the system currently works, if a doctor performs a medical procedure that results in injury to the patient – even if the doctor performs the procedure perfectly, and wants to discuss the problem with the procedure with others – he is opening himself up for a medical malpractice lawsuit. The prudent (financially) course of action is to ignore the injury, or try to minimize it, and hope that you don’t get sued. The overly defensive action doctors are almost forced to adopt may continue to cause the procedure to be performed in the same way and possibly injuring more patients. By not admitting that a problem has occurred can also delay remedial treatment, further aggravating the injuries and may ultimately increase the overall cost for treatment. This is obviously not in anyone’s best interest, but it is the situation in which we currently find ourselves.
The solution to the problem, and the one that ‘Think About It Colorado’ is somewhat trying to work toward, in a round about way, is tort reform where a doctor or hospital can admit a mistake and work to mitigating the damaging and prevention of similar mistakes in the future by others, without fear of financial ruin because of a huge malpractice award. By removing the fear of a financially devastating lawsuit by openly admitting a problem, whether it is the outcome of a perfectly performed procedure, adverse drug reaction, or injurious protocol we can improve the efficacy of the healthcare delivery and improve patient safety. When doctors can openly admit that an injury has occurred, then any remedial treatment can be initiated quickly to minimize the injury to that patient, and help to control overall treatment costs.
If doctors and hospitals can openly discuss problems with procedures and drug reactions, then we can more quickly find solutions and take corrective action to prevent injuries to other patients. Not only will this prevent unnecessary repetition of a mistake, improving patient safety, but it will also save money within the healthcare system which can be better used to provide healthcare for those cannot afford it now.
Isn’t that what healthcare reform is supposed to be about?
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