How Safe Are Illinois Hospitals?

The latest issue of “Vested Interest” — the newsletter from the Illinois Trial Lawyers Association — included a discussion of the new Consumer Reports analysis on hospital safety Our Chicago medical malpractice lawyers previously touched on the new hospital safety rating from the respected national publication. The ratings are a welcome addition to the community of information which might allow patients to make more informed decisions about where to receive the medical care they need. However, Consumer Reports notes that their data includes only 18% of U.S. hospitals, because there remains a woeful lack of consistent reporting or uniformity when it comes to documenting medical errors.

The big picture makes clear that we continue to have a problem with medical malpractice and preventable errors. As the ITLA summary notes, “Infections, surgical mistakes, and other medical harm contribute to the deaths of 180,000 patients each year.” That is according to the most recent data made available from the Department of Health and Human Services in 2010. Even then, that number is low, because it only refers to Medicare patients.

In addition, it is widely known that the vast majority of errors are never reported. It takes little imagination to consider that many facilities and individual caregivers are loathe to officially reported when things go wrong. If something can be swept under the rug, it often is. That is why many patients suffer serious complications (sometimes even fatal ones) without knowing it.

That overall bleak picture about the quality of care indicates the obvious need for patients to make informed decisions. That is especially true because not all hospitals are alike. Quality differences are often stark. Each Illinois medical malpractice attorney at our firm has worked without enough patients harmed by inadequate care to appreciate that quality differences in different facilities or departments matter. It is true that medical malpractice can (and does) occur everywhere, but that doesn’t mean the risk of receiving inadequate care is uniform.

At the end of the day, the increased use of hospital ranking system will hopefully spur real change at medical facilities. With little consequence following high error rates, hospitals often do not have the spur needed to actually make safety changes. But if error rates are more widely publicized and consumers actually make decision based on those rates, than hospitals might actually have real incentive to change things for the better.

There is some news for optimism as various facilities have recently responded in very positive ways to bring patient safety back to the forefront. Electronic prescriptions and increased use of checklists, for example, have proven to minimize errors–more and more hospitals and medical clinics are taking advantage. Positive results have manifest. For example, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention the rate of central line bloodstream infections have decreased by thirty two percent since 2008.

While encouraging, these improved results are indication of the scope of the original problem and a reminder of how far we have to go before no patient is harmed unnecessarily because of medical malpractice.

See Our Related Blog Posts:

Consumer Reports Releases Hospital Safety Ratings

WSJ Editorial on the Cost of Healthcare

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