5 reforms to help hospitals reduce medical errors

Medical errors are an ongoing problem in the healthcare industry--recent studies suggest that 250,000 people a year die due to such mistakes--but some simple steps may help hospitals reduce the amount of patient harm.

James Lieber, a Pittsburgh attorney and author of "Killer Care: How Medical Error Became America's Third Largest Cause of Death and What Can Be Done About It," writes in The Wall Street Journal that five reforms will cut back on the number of medical mistakes:

  • Use structured handoffs. Miscommunication during these transitions can be deadly, Lieber writes. Categorizing the severity of patient's illnesses and having a crisis plan in place can reduce these issues, he says.
  • Involve pharmacists. Pharmacists have a better knowledge of how drugs interact with diets, diseases and each other, and having them on rounds can decrease errors by nearly half, Lieber writes.
  • Take infections seriously. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers guidelines for disinfecting tools, patient rooms, and air and water sources, but these are only mandatory in the event of a major outbreak, Lieber writes. He suggests that the government grade hospitals on routine compliance with these protocols.
  • Work to avoid diagnostic errors. Don't hesitate to bring specialists into the loop if there are questions, Lieber writes, and try to ensure that the proper tests are ordered to find the correct diagnosis.
  • Share electronic health records. Lowering firewalls between doctors can ensure that they have the correct information on test results, diagnoses and treatments prescribed.

To learn more:
- read the commentary

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