AMA: Hospitals must focus on reducing outpatient errors

Although hospitals are ramping up efforts to report and prevent medical errors, the increased emphasis on the safety of inpatients has left outpatient data lacking, according to an American Medical Association (AMA) report.

"The vast majority of our interaction with the healthcare system in same-day situations," Jon Hallberg, physician in family medicine at the University of Minnesota and director of the Mill City Clinic, told Minnesota Public Radio. Outpatient visits outnumber overnight hospital stays 300-to-1.

Despite the high volume of outpatient visits, "we still know very little about patient safety in the ambulatory setting, and next to nothing about how to improve it," the report states.

The report calls for targeting patient safety initiatives to the outpatient setting to guarantee high-quality care. That requires measuring outpatient medical errors to develop appropriate improvements for the outpatient setting, reported American Medical News. Physicians must understand when these errors happen and why so they can figure out ways to prevent them from happening again, the article noted.

According to the report, better knowledge of major outpatient medical errors (such as diagnostic errors or clinical knowledge errors) will help healthcare organizations determine which types cause the most harm and what kind of harm.

While the industry waits for more outpatient data, what can hospitals do to prevent errors from occurring in ambulatory or clinic settings? To eliminate laboratory and medication problems, the University of Minnesota opened a clinic for all patients using a particular blood thinner, noted MPR. "I know that by having pharmacists, people who really understand the nature of this medication, that their actions have saved lives," Hallberg told MPR.

To learn more:
- check out the AMA report (.pdf)
- here's the MRP interview
- read the Amed News article

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