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Surgeon Shares Simple Ways to Eliminate Medical Errors & Save Lives

Patient safety advocates, lawyers working on medical malpractice cases, and others often sound like a broken record when reiterating the significant cost of medical mistakes. The common analogy pulled from an Institute of Medicine study reminds that the problem of deadly medical errors is equivalent to four jumbo jets full of people dying each and every week.

In other words, the problem is incredibly prevalent–it is not something that only happens to “others”–chances are it will one day affect many of our lives.

The repeated calls to explain the scope of the problem is an attempt to spur action to change things. The sad reality is that the total number of people hurt (or killed) by medical errors has remained constant for many years. We are not making many improvements, and more and more residents are being harmed as a result. A recent Wall Street Journal article written by a doctor argues that some simple steps can be taken to save lives. He notes the a big problem is that doctors do not learn from past mistakes. He writes that “the same preventable mistakes are made over and over again, and patients are left in the dark about which hospitals have significantly better (or worse) safety records than their peers.”

Simple Steps to Minimize Medical Malpractice
As part of the story the doctor suggest five simple steps that may have a big difference on the quality of care at all hospitals. Those hospitals include:

1) Publication of Hospital “Dashboard” — This dashboard would be a list of basic facts indicative of hospitals safety efforts, including the number of surgical errors, infection rates, readmission rates, and more. This should be compared to “performance ratings” used for so many other services, like mechanics or even restaurants. People should be able to have easy access to information to make logical healthcare choices.

2) Safety Culture Score — Similarly, the doctor urges use of a safety culture score to identify how well each employee at the facility feels comfortable speaking up about potential problems. In many cases communication between doctors, nurses, and technicians is minimal–allowing mistakes to slip through. A “score” exists to measure the teamwork at facilities in this regard–the public should know that score.

3) Use of Cameras — The doctor advises increased use of cameras to identify just what happens in procedures. Research has shown that this electronic observation improves compliance with basic safety protocols significantly. Doctors are less likely to cut corners when they know someone may see their sloppiness.

4) Review Notes with Patients — Doctors often write down incorrect information after interviewing patients about their symptoms and history. By reviewing notes at the end of the session the patient is given the chance to correct any problems.

5) No More Gag Orders — Transparency is critical in all of these steps, and that includes giving patients the ability to be honest about their experience. The story notes how some facilities force patients to sign “gag orders’ against making negative about their physician online or in other settings. This should be abandoned, as it does nothing but stifle the open flow of information and allow cultural problems to fester–hurting more patients in the process.

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