National Consumers League

New research showing lack of progress on patient safety front a disturbing trend


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By Sally Greenberg, NCL Executive Director Patient safety should be a paramount consideration when someone is admitted to the hospital, but new research is discouraging on that front. Researchers looked at 10 North Carolina hospitals over the 2002-2007 period. They found many problems. About 18 percent of patients were harmed by medical care, some more than once, and 63.1 percent of injuries were preventable. Most problems patients faced were temporary, but some were serious, and 2.4 percent caused or contributed to a patient’s death. The thing that is so discouraging is that, in 1999 when an Institute of Medicine report – entitled “To Err is Human” – found that up to 98,000 people each year die, and more than one million people are injured because of medical errors, the medical community made a commitment to try to make a dent in these numbers. It appears that things for consumers and patients haven’t improved much. Common problems appeared when hospitals failed to use measures proven to avert hazards from devices like urinary catheters, ventilators, and lines inserted into veins and arteries. Medication errors caused problems in 162 cases – computerized systems for ordering drugs can cut such mistakes by 80 percent, the researchers found, but only 17 percent of hospitals have such systems. These errors not only injure people, but they cost the health care system a bundle. The report estimated that these errors cost Medicare several billion dollars a year. Not only that, but researchers estimate that these numbers are vastly underestimated because reporting medical errors is voluntary.