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President Clinton Speaks on Patient Harm

Former President Bill Clinton spoke this week in harsh terms about the many changes that still need to be made in the U.S. healthcare industry to control costs and keep patients safe. Since leaving office, Clinton has worked on many different initiatives, with much of it focused on health care worldwide. His latest statements on our own health care system are an important reminder of the complexities involved and the need to increase focus on making real changes to save lives.

Too Much Confusion
Clinton discussed these issues when speaking at the first ever Masimo Patient Safety Science and Technology Summit. The purpose of the conference was mostly to share information about health monitoring devices which may be able to collect important data to prevent future patient deaths. These devices have the potential to offer significant benefit to individual patients while provided comprehensive information about common safety problems.

The former President’s speech touched on many different issues related to patient safety. For example, according The Patch, he spoke about the “Byzantine” rules affecting the industry and the half-measures related to hospital efficiency which ultimately lead to serious problems in patient safety. He noted that all of this leads to nearly 200,000 patients who die each and every year in preventable ways. These problems are unacceptable, as the consequences of not changing are far too high.

In placing the blame squarely on human errors, he noted: “There’s no devil here. We have an encrusted system that’s killing people, not because there’s somebody lurking behind the curtain.”

The former president was clear that tackling the costs of health care go hand-in-hand with improving outcomes. Preventing deaths and the subsequent expensive complications from medical errors would go a long way to cutting our total healthcare spending.

At the summit various speakers discussed different ways to address the problem. For one thing, drug administration errors need to be tackled and the use of older blood in transfusions need to be limited. Older blood can break down and then cause problems for recipients.

On top of this, the often-mentioned use of checklists was touted as a simple way to cut down on errors. It might seem silly to suggest that a checklist might prevent a significant number of errors, but researchers continue to find that these reminders cut down on oversights. Yet, many physicians continue to eschew these sorts of protocol changes. Many consider them overly simplistic and not useful in their own practice. This is unfortunate. While most doctors get it right every time without a checklist to help them, all it takes is a single slip-up or mental lapse to cause serious harm. Obviously doctors get it right most of the time, but the safety protocols are needed for those exceptions.

Clinton ended his speech with a call to action, noting that, “I know that none of you want to be a part of a system that leaves us sicker and broke, or you wouldn’t be sitting here. I think our future belongs to creative networks of cooperation. We’ve got to share data, not hoard it. It’s not unrealistic to think that by 2020, you can get rid of unnecessary deaths in the American healthcare system.”

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