The challenge of hospital safety

In our last post we discussed some hot topics discussed at the recent MedicineX conference in Silicon Valley, and today an issue specific to hospitals:

Hospital errors are still a big problem in the US

“Preventable errors” are still common in US hospitals, but some measures are being taken to improve the situation.

As alarming as it may seem, a reliable estimate is that about 210,000 deaths occur yearly in the U.S. because of errors made in hospitals. This makes “hospital errors” the third leading cause of death in the United States. Most of these deaths are classified as infections or accidents, but the underlying issue was an error that occurred while a patient was in a hospital.

Many of the infections resulted from hospital personnel not being vigilant about following simple infection control measures, such as adequate hand washing. Many hospital staff and visitors do not wash their hands frequently enough, and infections are carried from person to person. The elderly, surgical patients, diabetics, and those with depressed immune systems are especially vulnerable.

Regarding accidents, there are still too many cases of patients receiving the wrong medication, or the wrong dose, leading to serious harm. “Wrong sided surgery” is still an issue, and while many hospitals have taken steps to mark the correct side before surgery, problems still occur. For example, some hospitals were marking an “X” on the arm or leg that needed surgery, but sometimes this X was interpreted as “this is the side to operate on”, but sometimes the X was thought to mean “don’t operate on this side”.

What is being done to minimize the problem

Medical care is such a complex issue that errors will never be abolished, but the goal is to vastly minimize the number. The government, both at the state and the federal level, have increased their vigilance of hospitals that show an elevated number of patient “incidents”. Technology is helping significantly here as errors are increasingly being reported electronically to the appropriate agencies, who send in teams to work to correct the problems.

Besides the government, various organizations have emerged that are working to give hospitals “grades” on easily searched websites, so that the public can be better informed. One of these websites is, sponsored by the Leapfrog Group, which issues Hospital Safety Scores.

You can send an email to us at ProcuraMed if you want to see a more extensive list of the websites in the US that are working to improve hospital safety. While the issue of hospital errors at this conference only touched on US hospitals, it gives us something to think about here in Brazil.

A New, Evidence-based Estimate of Patient Harms Associated with Hospital Care


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