Medical Error: What the Public Should Know
“For all of its strengths, our health care system still is plagued by avoidable errors.” -President Bill Clinton
The issue of medical error is recognized as a very serious U.S. healthcare concern in terms of avoidable patient death and injury, achieving efficacious treatment, and in controlling the costs. The prevention of medical errors may seem to be a relatively simple task and with recent awareness, some improvements have been accomplished. However, the search for reasonable, acceptable, and more effective remedies and countermeasures continue with force.
Attention to medical errors escalated over eight years ago with the release of a study from the Institute of Medicine (IOM), To Err is Human, which found that between 44,000 and 98,000 Americans die each year in U.S. hospitals due to preventable medical errors. Hospital errors rank between the fifth and eighth leading cause of death, killing more Americans than breast cancer, traffic accidents, or AIDS. Serious medication errors occur in the cases of 5 to 10 percent of patients admitted to hospitals. These numbers may understate the problem because they do not include preventable deaths due to medical treatments outside of hospitals.
Since the release of the IOM study, there has been greater focus on the quality of healthcare provided in the U.S. Quality experts agree that one of the most common causes of errors is the medical system itself, not the individuals functioning within the system. The publication of the IOM report triggered substantial public and private sector activity, including the formation of the National Patient Safety Foundation by the American Medical Association; the creation of a non-punitive sentinel events reporting system by the Joint Commission for the Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations; and the establishment of new public private partnerships by the Veterans Health Administration and similar agencies.
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