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Family Engagement to Improve Patient Safety in Hospitals

The USA Today published an interesting story this week on some comprehensive efforts to eliminate medical malpractice and minimizing medical errors by designing “patient safety to be more like a car’s dashboard, which automatically signals drivers when the oil needs changing or if a passenger forgot to buckle up, or like the countdown system that makes sure no step is missed when a satellite is launched.”

Each Chicago medical malpractice lawyer at our firm knows that many different patient safety initiatives make waves, but consistent application of those principles is the key to actually increasing patient safety. Hopefully this latest effort will be followed-through by institutions to limit errors and ensure more patients leave the hospital without injuries sustained inside it.

This latest initiative is a $9 million project spearheaded by Johns Hopkins University. The key is to combine engineering with the power of patients (and their families) to identify problems. The initiative explains that mistakes are more common if health care workers are forced to remember various steps in proper care–it is easy to miss one of those steps.

Those leading the effort suggested that it is a mistake to treat patients and their family members as bystanders, without using their situation to help spot errors before they caused harm. This includes many different details, from checklists and sophisticated electronic warning systems. Other components may eventually include iPad-like devices accessible to family members which indicate what daily caregiving needs to be completed and have already been completed.

The overall hope is that patient and family members will be far more engaged in the process than they are now. One example is shared in the story to illustrate a mistake that might have been caught. A man went into an emergency room following an attack due to his sickle cell anemia. His condition often causes him to stay overnight in the hospital, and he is familiar with the treatment. However, one time his usual short-stay ended up lasting two weeks. That is because a doctor prescribed an extra, powerful antibiotic which caused a sickle cell crisis.. The drug was prescribed to treat a spot on the man’s x-ray that she suspected might be pneumonia. However, if she had asked the patient, he would have explained that it was simply an old scar.

More engagement by the patient (or his or her family) might have prevented the harmful mistake.

This type of patient safety initiative has gained widespread support. For example, the Patient Care Program funded the initial effort, just one part of a planned 10-year $500 million of support to improve patient safety and family engagement. The Institute of Medicine has also provided support to the effort.

Medical malpractice attorneys know that it is a mistake to blame patients or their families for failing to spot an error. Accountability for reasonable care must still be provided by medical care providers. But there is little harm in educating patients and other observers to help in the effort. After all, at the end of the day, what matter is preventing harm. Anything that helps save lives or minimize damages should be encouraged.

In our area, if you suspect that you or a loved one was affected by basic errors, consider contacting the Illinois medical malpractice lawyers at our firm to receive tailored legal advice.

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