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Hospital errors

How consistent hospital error is having a deadly effect on the healthcare system

Tuesday, July 02, 2013 by: J. D. Heyes
Tags: hospital errors, patient deaths, medical system

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(NaturalNews) A recent survey of hospitals found that infections, surgical errors and other medical harm contribute to the deaths of about 180,000 patients a year.

The projections by Consumer Reports magazine were based on a 2010 report by the Department of Health and Human Resources. In addition to the deaths, the government report found that another 1.4 million patients are seriously hurt by their hospital care.

What is most interesting about these results is that they cover just a small sample; the figures pertain only to Medicare patients. What happens to other patients is less clear, the magazine said, because most hospital errors don't get reported and hospitals only report a small fraction of what can go wrong.

"There is an epidemic of health-care harm," Rosemary Gibson, a patient-safety advocate and author, said.

'Hospitals haven't given safety the attention it deserves'

She adds that somewhere in the neighborhood of 2.25 million Americans will probably die from medical harm this decade. "That's like wiping out the entire populations of North Dakota, Rhode Island and Vermont. It's a man-made disaster," she said.

Some hospitals are responding to this crisis by implementing new safety measures such as electronically prescribing medications to help prevent drug errors and checklists to prevent infections - with some success. Since 2008, rates of central-line bloodstream infections, for instance, have fallen off by 32 percent, says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

That's a start, but much more needs to be done, industry experts say.

"Hospitals haven't given safety the attention it deserves," notes Peter Pronovost, M.D., senior VP for patient safety and quality at Johns Hopkins Medicine in Baltimore.

The government hasn't made it a priority either, he added.

"Medical harm is probably one of the three leading causes of death in the U.S., but the government doesn't adequately track it as it does deaths from automobiles, plane crashes, and cancer. It's appalling," he told the magazine.

The dearth of information, he says, not only makes it harder to identify and define the extent of the problem but also creates challenges for patients who are trying to learn more about the safety of hospitals in their communities.

That's where Consumer Reports stepped up. For the first time, in August 2012, the magazine rated hospitals for safety, utilizing the most current data available. The analysis includes data from both government and independent sources on 1,159 hospitals in 44 states. For their report, the magazine said it "also interviewed patients, physicians, hospital administrators, and safety experts; reviewed medical literature; and looked at hospital inspections and investigations."

That said, the ratings still only include 18 percent of U.S. hospitals because data on patient harm is still not fully reported or available consistently nationwide.

"Hospitals that volunteer safety information, regardless of their score, deserve credit, since the first step in safety is accountability," John Santa, M.D., director of the Consumer Reports Health Ratings Center, said. "But the fact that consumers can't get a full picture of most hospitals in the U.S. underscores the need for more public reporting."

All hospitals have something bad about them

To make its determinations, the magazine focused on six things: infections, readmissions, communication, CT scanning, complications, and mortality.

Not all health professionals agreed with the ratings scheme. Readmission rates, for instance, could be higher among hospitals care for patients who then have little home or community support after being discharged.

Some of the most important findings include:

-- There are bad things that happen in all hospitals. But the difference is, in terms of ratings, bad things happen in some hospitals more often than others. Consumer Reports said: "The lowest--scoring hospital, Sacred Heart Hospital in Chicago, earned just a 16 on our 100-point safety scale and reported a rate of bloodstream -infections that was more than twice the national benchmark. The hospital declined to comment."

-- Even hospitals with high ratings/scores can do better. The Billings Clinic in Montana was at the top of the magazine's safety ratings list, but it only got a 72 (out of a possible 100).

-- Some well-known hospitals have less-than-stellar safety scores (including Massachusetts General in Boston and Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center in Los Angeles).

The American Association of Justice - formerly the Association of Trial Lawyers of America - says preventable medical errors are the sixth-biggest killer in the country.





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