Medical Errors Often Undetected

After more than a decade of efforts to improve the quality of patient care in our nation's hospitals, the problem continues to persist. And the problem may be even bigger than we realize. A study in this month's journal Health Affairs found that the number of adverse events occurring in hospitals may be 10 times larger than previously estimated.

Sadly, even the most extreme mistakes, such as planting the wrong kidney in a patient, are often avoidable. However, the solution is far more complicated than hospitals first believed it to be. Despite sizable investments and aggressive promotional campaigns, efforts to improve quality are still highly inadequate. Even the most recent reporting systems fail to detect adverse events and cannot account for human error.

The Institute of Medicine famously exposed the inadequacies of our health care system in a 1999 report, which revealed that tens of thousands of American die from avoidable medical mistakes each year. Since that time, little, if any progress has been made. Patients rely on hospitals to help them heal, and injuries that are caused by medical mistakes rather than a patient's underlying condition disadvantage patients in their most vulnerable state. Until significant changes are made, hospitals will continue to be a dangerous place for patients.

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