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Hospitals Often Represent Dangerous Environments

We all rely on hospitals to maintain and improve our health, but a new government study reveals that hospitals often represent dangerous environments where patients are frequently harmed by preventable errors.

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has released a report titled, "Adverse Events in Hospitals: National Incidence Among Medicare Beneficiaries." The objective of the report is to "estimate the national incidence of adverse events for hospitalized Medicare beneficiaries, assess, the preventability of such events, and estimate associated costs to Medicare."

The report found that 13.5% (about 1 in 7) of the nearly 1 million hospitalized Medicare patients experienced adverse events during their hospital stays. Moreover, an estimated 15,000 Medicare beneficiaries per month experienced an event that contributed to their deaths.

Even more disturbing is that all of Chicago's top medical centers appeared on the list of hospitals with medical malpractice, as was reported by the Chicago Tribune. For instance, during the one month evaluated for the study, Chicago's Resurrection Medical Center recorded 18 patient falls among Medicare patients under its care. Northwest Community Hospital in Arlington Heights was not far behind with 15 falls listed. Meanwhile, Chicago's Mount Sinai Hospital had seven patients develop serious bedsores, Provena St. Joseph Medical Center in Joliet investigated 35 hospital-acquired urinary tract infections associated with catheters, and Rush University Medical Center in Chicago investigated 18 such incidents.

What is more, eighteen Illinois hospitals reported at least one incident of leaving an object in a patient after surgery. Referring to these instances, Jay Anderson, Vice President of Quality for Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago, acknowledged to the Chicago Tribune that "All of these events are absolutely preventable, and it's our responsibility to put systems and procedures in place to prevent them."

The study is alarming for numerous reasons. First, when one of us goes to the hospital for medical care, it is totally unacceptable that we are at such a high risk of an error occurring that further threatens our health. Additionally, while health care insurers often blame medical malpractice lawsuits for rising health care costs (even though the data does not support such accusations), the data in this study estimates that Medicare spends approximately $4.4 billion per year due to adverse events in hospitals, a much better factually supported explanation.

The bottom line is hospitals meeting their responsibilities of improving patient care will lead to less patients unnecessarily injured and killed in hospitals, less medical malpractice lawsuits, and signficiantly less health care costs. On the other hand, when a patient is injured due to a hospital error, depriving that person of a right to be fairly compensated for the harm they have sustained is clearly not the answer and will do nothing to make us safer.

Source: Chicago Tribune

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