We're Reacting To Medical Errors The Wrong Way

We're Reacting To Medical Errors The Wrong Way

Over twenty years later, we may be reducing medical errors — a recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found significant decreases in mistakes in cases of pneumonia, acute myocardial infarction, heart failure, and surgery between 2010 and 2019 — but the way we’re reacting to people who disclose them is worrying. To her credit, Vaught did come forward when she realized what had occurred, but Vanderbilt didn’t report the error to the government or medical examiner. When it comes to medical errors, it’s not the so-called crime that’s concerning, it’s the cover-up. Up to 9,000 annual deaths are reportedly attributed to medication errors alone. We also don’t have a very precise definition of medical errors, so the lack of reporting may be motivated more by ignorance than a desire to hide the facts. That lack of definition limits the effectiveness of systems — communication and resolution programs (CRPs) are new ways of reducing errors, hospitals’ safety reporting systems allow staffers to communicate anything that affects patient safety that are in place and are known to work; a recent meta-analysis from 2018 showed a significant reduction in mortality from using the World Health Organization’s surgical safety checklist developed to decrease errors in the operating room. Physicians, prosecutors, and administrators should be working on defining medical errors and training providers on how to optimally use the systems in place rather than penalizing and prosecuting providers who commit errors due to failed systems or whistleblowers.

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