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How To Address Medical Malpractice Errors

The recent estimate regarding fatal medical errors should serve as motivation for people interested in patient safety. There were roughly 34 million hospital admissions across the United States last year. Given the estimate provided by the Journal of Patient Safety of 210,000 to 440,000 deaths caused by medical errors, that translates to a 0.6-1.3 percent fatality rate for those being admitted. Dr. Nina Radcliff, a member of the American Society of Anesthesiologists believes that the safety gains in another industry could serve as a model for improving medical safety. She believes that an approach adopted by the airline industry could help reduce the number of preventable deaths in the medical field.

The model she is suggesting as a useful tool is that of the non-punitive reporting system. In the airline industry, pilots, air traffic controllers and other workers are encouraged to report errors without fear of retribution. The idea is that non-punitive reporting will help correct errors in the way the system works by identifying flaws and deficits in training. Workers in the medical field may stay silent about known safety hazards for fear that they will lose their jobs or be penalized for speaking up.

Many of the preventable errors that cost lives in the medical field would be unthinkable in other professions. Roughly 7,000 people are killed every year because of doctors who provided illegible or unclear instructions in a prescription. An estimated 4,500 to 6,000 surgeries are performed where an instrument, sponge, needle or other medical tool is left inside the patient accidentally. Such mistakes are preventable and lead to substantial harm for the patients and their loved ones.

Source: Press of Atlantic City, "Dr. Nina Radcliff / Medicine must address errors the way aviation does," by Dr. Nina Radcliff, 25 September 2013

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