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Originally published January 9 2009

U.S. Hospitals: Still Unsafe and Too Often Deadly

by Sherry Baker, Health Sciences Editor

(NaturalNews) We've all heard some hospital horror stories over the years – tales of the wrong leg or breast removed, accounts of horrendous hospital-acquired flesh eating bacterial infections and reports of babies mixed up in the nursery and sent home with the wrong parents. But with all the publicity about these types of examples and the high tech, computerized record keeping and monitoring systems available to doctors and staff, hospitals are surely getting safer and safer, right?

Wrong, according to Johns Hopkins critical care specialist Peter Pronovost, M.D., Ph.D. In an article by Dr. Pronovost published in the Dec. 24 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), he points out that despite an increased emphasis on patient safety, little progress has been made in actually making hospitals safer places.

In a statement to the media, Dr. Pronovost pointed out an average adult will receive recommended therapy only 53 percent of the time while hospitalized. This explains, at least partially, the approximately 100,000 patients who die each year in the United States because of hospital error. "Imagine, America has some of the best doctors and medicine in the world, yet we are only getting it right half of the time," he said. "It's been almost 10 years since the Institute of Medicine published To Err Is Human, its treatise on the need for increased patient safety initiatives at hospitals. Yet we really haven't made much progress."

In his JAMA article, Dr. Pronovost says hospitals can improve patient safety by incorporating three principles. First, doctors must balance their autonomy with team-based standardized care protocols. Second, medical students and residents need to be trained to understand their roles as patient agents rather than autonomous decision makers. Dr. Pronovost also recommends that students from different clinical disciplines should train together in order to foster trust and teamwork. Third, he says the way in which evidence-based standards and protocols for treating patients are developed should be standardized and made clear. Groups developing these standards, according to Dr. Pronovost, should include representative patients, physicians, methodologists, regulators and payers to ensure that all points of views are reflected.

While changes in the way physicians are trained, work together and practice medicine based on well-thought-out standards could help improve hospital care, there is another major source of danger in hospitals that also clearly needs attention – infections. In fact, nearly one out of every 20 patients ends up with an infection during their hospital stay that is not related to the reason they came to the hospital in the first place. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) statistics show that in U.S. hospitals, healthcare-associated infections account for an estimated 1.7 million infections and lead to 99,000 deaths annually.

For more information on the CDC's report on health-care related infections, visit:

About the author

Sherry Baker is a widely published writer whose work has appeared in Newsweek, Health, the Atlanta Journal and Constitution, Yoga Journal, Optometry, Atlanta, Arthritis Today, Natural Healing Newsletter, OMNI, UCLA’s "Healthy Years" newsletter, Mount Sinai School of Medicine’s "Focus on Health Aging" newsletter, the Cleveland Clinic’s "Men’s Health Advisor" newsletter and many others.

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