5 ways for hospitals to reduce--not make excuses for--medical errors

Recent study data suggests that more than 250,000 Americans die each year due to medical errors, and some in the healthcare industry have come out to challenge that figure.

However, a new blog post from Health Affairs calls on providers to stop making excuses for the data and challenge themselves to cut back on the number of preventable errors. “Estimates at the 'low' end still represent an unconscionable loss of life,” writes Karen Wolk Feinstein, Ph.D., president and CEO of the Jewish Healthcare Foundation (JHF) in Pittsburgh. “We nurture inconsistency.”

In the blog, Feinstein suggests several actions that hospitals can take to reduce medical errors, including:

  • Be transparent and accountable. Track efforts to reduce medical errors monthly and by unit, sharing best practices between staffs. Don’t punish employees for reporting errors and reward units and staffs that perform well. “Management at the highest level must continuously walk around and observe,” Feinstein writes. “It sends a clear message: this institution is deadly serious.”

  • Reward improvement efforts and recognize success. Offering awards and recognitions to leadership and teams that continue to set the bar for quality care is done frequently at JHF, Feinstein writes, and should be implemented elsewhere as well.

  • Improve education and training. Doctors and nurses must lead the way to change and progress for preventable errors, according to Feinstein, so strong education and training programs in safety science are necessary. Make sure to take the time needed to train young professionals, too, she says.

  • Learn from past successes. The processes undertaken by initiatives in infection control and new treatment techniques can be the catalyst to inform future transformations.

  • Own the problem of medical errors. Deferring the issue or pretending it is not truly a problem will ensure nothing gets done to fix the situation, Feinstein writes. Health systems must have an adequate problem-solving structure in place.

“We don’t yet possess all of the answers necessary to eradicate heart disease and cancer­--the first and second leading causes of death in the United States--but we know how to eliminate medical errors,” writes Feinstein. “We just haven’t shown the conviction and courage to do it. Until then, we’re falling short of truly valuing every human life.”

- read the blog post