Apr 29, 2011

A new study published by Health Affairs finds that one in three Americans admitted to hospitals will experience some type of medical error. The results include everything from bedsores to surgical instruments left inside patients, and the statistic is based on aggregate findings conducted by researchers from private and public institutions.  As corollaries to the study, Denver-based consulting firm Millman Inc. used insurance claims to estimate the annual cost of medical errors to patients at $17.1 billion. Meanwhile, University of Utah researchers found that current methods for tracking medical errors “fail to detect 90 percent of the adverse events that occur among hospitalized patients.” (Daily Mail, UK.)

Susan Dentzer, the editor-in-chief of Health Affairs, delivered a stark assessment of the healthcare industry with regard to patient safety. “Without doubt, we’ve seen improvements in healthcare over the past decade, and even pockets of excellence, but overall progress had been agonizingly slow. It’s clear that we still have a great deal of work to do in order to achieve a health care system that is consistently high quality—that is safe, effective, patient-centered, efficient, timely and devoid of disparities based on race and ethnicity.” (Daily Mail, UK)

The study has lit up media outlets, angered hospitals and garnered much attention from the White House. Earlier this month, the Obama administration revealed an ambitious $1 billion to reduce the number of preventable injuries by 40% and cut readmissions to hospitals by 20% over the next three years. Rima Cohen, adviser to the Health and Human Services Secretary (HHS) said that $1billion will be made available through the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act to fund various demonstration projects over the next three years.

That money will be divided contemporaneously between two facets of the new plan: In the coming months, the Obama Administration  will make $500 million in grants to community-based organizations that partner with hospitals to develop programs targeting patients immediately after they are discharged.  Research has shown that this period is crucial for preventive care, and should thus reduce the number of costly readmissions. (Levey)

The remaining $500 million will go to test models for reducing nine types of medical errors, including surgical site infections, pressure ulcers and complications from childbirth. The study by Millman Inc. revealed that 10 basic errors accounted for two-thirds of the $17.1 billion in costs. Among the most common were pressure ulcers, postoperative infections and persistent pain following back surgery (Daily Mail, UK.)

While there has been much kicking and screaming on Capitol Hill over Washington spending as of late, many industry insiders believe  Obama’s less- is-more strategy will pay dividends. “As business has demonstrated in various industries over the last three decades, quality costs less, not more,” said David Cote, chief executive of manufacturing giant Honeywell (Levey).

According to HHS, the new initiatives “could save as much as $35 billion, including $10 billion for Medicare, beyond the ultimate goal of saving lives and reducing problems.” According to the LA Times, the reform bill has won the backing of numerous hospital groups, leading insurers and physician groups such as the American Medical Association (Levey.)

However, not everyone is happy. In fact, some hospitals are outraged, and the National Hospital Association has sought to have the release of data blocked because they do not believe reports from agencies such as medicare are “reliable reflections” of patient safety issues in hospitals. Nonetheless, the long awaited data from Medicare published earlier this month to alarming results:

Of 1 million elderly and disabled Medicare patients hospitalized annually, 13.5 percent (135,00) experience an adverse event, with an associated cost of $4.4 billion… Moreover, among  people of all ages, hospital errors account for 100,000 deaths each year, according to the Institute of Medicine, an arm of the National Academy of Sciences. (Judith Graham, Chicago Tribune)

What’s more, a recent article by Judith Graham of the Chicago Tribune reveals the following information:

All of Chicago’s top medical centers appear on the list of hospitals with safety issues, to one extent or another. For instance, the University of Illinois at Chicago Medical Center, the University of Chicago Medical Center and Rush University Medical Center all reported higher-than-average numbers of hospital-acquired bloodstream infections associated with catheters. (Judith Graham, Chicago Tribune.)

The articles show that  Chicago hospitals are higher-than-average in patient falls, bedsores and urinary tract infections from catheters. Although rare, there are some instances where objects have been left inside patients after surgery. For more information on specific problems and problem hospitals, please read Graham’s article linked above.

In closing, this latest report is a fresh black eye to a medical system that has long been plagued by error.  Though new methods and technologies are being developed to prevent medical mishaps, these efforts must be stepped up to ensure patient safety and peace of mind. For a system with such high stake–not  to mention the high charges–there is no excuse for inadequate care. To err is human; to forgive, divine; to fix the system is most necessary. If you or a loved one has been the victim of medical error, please contact Dolan Law for your free consultation today.

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