Patient harm still common at hospitals

Despite a constant barrage of statistics showing how checklists and other safety measures can help hospitals to avoid costly preventable errors, many administrators apparently aren't getting the message. According to a study published in last Thursday's New England Journal of Medicine, harm to patients remains relatively common at hospitals, especially procedural and medication issues.

Dr. Christopher P. Landrigan, an assistant professor at Harvard Medical School and the study's lead author, and his colleagues examined 10 hospitals in North Carolina from 2002 to 2007, choosing the Tar Heel State because of a "high level of engagement in efforts to improve patient safety." They believe that more needs to be done to assimilate safety efforts into the day-to-day routines of doctors and nurses, specifically with regard to keeping an eye on mistakes. 

"Until there is a more coordinated effort to implement those strategies proven beneficial, I think that progress in patient safety will be very slow....We need a monitoring system that is mandatory," Landrigan told the New York Times. "There has to be some mechanism for federal-level reporting, where hospitals across the country are held to it." 

In all, more than 2,300 patient records were reviewed, with "harms" identified roughly 25 percent of the time (588 cases). Nearly 43 percent of the harms led to "prolonged hospitalization," with permanent damage occurring 2.9 percent of the time (17 cases) and death occurring 2.4 percent of the time (14 cases). Sixty-three percent of harms (364 cases) were deemed "preventable." 

"Since North Carolina has been a leader in efforts to improve safety, a lack of improvement in this state suggests that further improvement is also needed at the national level," the authors concluded. "[A]chieving transformational improvements in the safety of healthcare will require further study of which patient-safety efforts are truly effective across settings and a refocusing of resources, regulation, and improvement initiatives to successfully implement proven interventions." 

To learn more:
- here's the New England Journal of Medicine study
- read this New York Times article