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Hospitals Face Pressure to Reduce Medical Errors

The Associated Press is reporting this week on a string of serious medical errors which are leading some observers to question whether certain medical providers are actually doing all that they can to keep patients safe. The article focuses on the problems in one area where at least a dozen serious errors were reported. Government officials noted that the dozen reported errors were actually just the beginning, because there are likely more than eighty other errors which were committed but never reported. It is not surprising that there is a disconnect between the errors that occur and those that are reported. Many facilities would rather cover up their mistakes (and the ability to learn from them) rather than face potential medical malpractice lawsuits as a result of their errors. Each Chicago medical malpractice lawyer at our firm understands the natural instinct of hospital administrators to seek to avoid paying legal claim-but the safety of patients must come first.

The consequences are too stark.

For example, the article shares the story of one hospital that committed an error involving a three-week old infant. The child was in the neonatal intensive care unit when the nurse taking care of the baby mixed up a feeding line with an IV line. As a result of that mistake, the baby died. Instead of covering up the mistake or firing the nurse and claiming everything was now fine, the facility did the responsible thing and figured out systematic problems which allowed the error to occur. The hospital administrator explained the situation by noting that they “had to look at the system error about what was going on. [They] had to correct the system there.”

So what changed?

There are now colored coded tubes delineating each type of line in stark terms that are much harder to mix up. In addition, the tubes will not cross connect. Protocol has also been changed which requires nurses to trace the tubes back to their sources. On top of that nurses now have observers when administering to the babies. Other staff members are not allowed to interrupt a nurse when in the process, and nurses are required to maintain direct contact with the child during this time. All of these steps act as safeguards, ensuring that future fatal mistakes do not occur. Our Illinois medical malpractice lawyers realize that none of these changes would have been enacted had the initial error been covered up or swept under the rug.

We would all be better off if more hospitals acted in this way. The increased focus on patient safety has had very clear results. In 2008 the hospital reported 17 “serious safety events.” Last year that number had dropped to just one-even though the definition of what constituted a serious event was actually expanded.

Hospital officials explain that financial incentives factor into the facility changes. Not only can victims use the legal system to demand accountability, but state and federal regulators are increasingly seeking to tie funding to certain improvements in preventable error. This is particularly true when it comes to things like preventable medication errors, hospital acquired infections, and readmission rates.

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