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Five Ways Hospitals Could Prevent Deadly Mistakes

September 28, 2012

By Vanessa Radatus

The article, “How to Stop Hospitals from Killing Us” in The Wall Street Journal  provides a shockingly honest perspective into the health care industry and business of saving lives.

The author of the article, Dr. Marty Makery, a surgeon at Johns Hopkins Hospital, explains that 1 in 4 patients are harmed by a medical mistake that are almost always preventable. He asks a key question: Shouldn’t our healthcare system be held to the same safety standards as any other industry?

The comparison Makery uses is perfect. When there is a plane crash, it makes national headlines. Without question, a thorough investigation is done to find out what error was made, how it could have been avoided, and ultimately who is held accountable. It seems harsh, but then again, lives were lost because of a preventable error and you can be certain the aviation industry learns from their mistake.

However, the number of patients killed annually by medical errors is equivalent to four planes crashing every week, yet their stories are all too often unnoticed and forgotten. In the article, Makery states:

“If medical errors were a disease, they would be the sixth leading cause of death in America—just behind accidents and ahead of Alzheimer’s. The human toll aside, medical errors cost the U.S. health-care system tens of billions a year. Some 20% to 30% of all medications, tests and procedures are unnecessary, according to research done by medical specialists, surveying their own fields. What other industry misses the mark this often?” Read more…

Makery makes an excellent argument and explains a career defining moment when he learned the truth about our broken health care system. Few hospitals are actually held accountable for poor performance rates and bad outcomes and therefore, best-practices are lost in everyday procedures.

After years of witnessing this lack of accountability throughout his career, Makery published the book “Unaccountable: What Hospitals Won’t Tell You and How Transparency Can Revolutionize Health Care.”

His book sheds light on the issue of bad doctors, botched surgeries, and the key changes that could change how hospitals treat patients. His book advocates that all hospitals should have data and statistics that are publicly accessible for patients to make best choices when it comes to treatment. Without that, patients are walking in to hospitals blind. Read more…

He believes five simple changes to the industry could make hospitals a safer place:

  1. Online Dashboards: Providing the public with the hospitals rates for infection, readmission, surgical complications and errors that should never occur. The dashboard should also list the hospital’s annual volume for each type of surgery that it performs and patient satisfaction scores so that a patient can choose a hospital that specializes in the procedure needed.
  2. Safety Culture Scores: Creating an environment where teamwork is encouraged and anyone from an intern to a nurse feels confident to speak up about a potential issue.
  3. Cameras: Cameras are already being used in health care, but usually no video is made. Reviewing tapes of cardiac catheterizations, arthroscopic surgery and other procedures could be used for peer-based quality improvement. Video would also serve as a more substantive record for future doctors and make doctors more compliant to perform best practices in their field.
  4. Open Notes: Giving patients the ability to review their doctors notes gives them access to explain all their symptoms and help prevent issues in the future.
  5. No More Gagging: Patients are increasingly being asked to sign a gag order, promising never to say anything negative about their physician online or publicly. In addition, if you are the victim of a medical mistake, hospital lawyers ensure that you will never speak publicly about the error as part of the settlement.

It is apparent that there needs to be more transparency in hospitals and medical procedures in order to create a safer and more reliable health care system. If an industry puts a person’s life at risk, like the aviation, automobile or drug industry, they are held accountable when they have made an error. Why should health care be any different?

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