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Hospitals Using Standardization to Combat Medical Errors

In the last 15 years, studies of U.S. hospitals have revealed a disturbing frequency of patient deaths resulting from medical mistakes that could have been prevented. According to a 1999 report from the Institute of Medicine, the annual number of deaths caused by preventable hospital errors was estimated to be as high as 98,000.

Many hospitals have tried to address the problem of medical errors by standardizing procedures and encouraging cultural change in the medical field. Specifically, more hospitals have adopted so-called "high-reliability" strategies, whereby standard treatments are better systematized, and medical personnel at every level are encouraged to speak up if a patient's safety is at risk.

One aspect of the high-reliability initiative is the use of checklists to ensure that patients receive the basic care they need. Another measure is to require doctors and nurses to meet in daily "safety huddles" and discuss possible issues that might arise over the course of a given day. Additionally, some hospitals have taken steps to prevent surgical-site infections by requiring that surgeons use a new set of sterilized medical tools when sewing up a patient.

Other complex fields, such as the aviation industry, adopted the concept of high reliability decades ago. The point then, as now in the medical field, is to protect individuals from human error.

In many cases, diagnostic mistakes are cognitive mistakes, and if a doctor is incompetent or otherwise not focused on the health and safety of a patient, then the patient is likely to pay the price. Improved safety standards are certainly welcome in hospitals and clinics throughout the country, but patients should also be aware of their legal options when a failure to meet those standards results in injury.

Source: ctmirror.org, "CT hospitals follow aviation, nuclear power in targeting errors," Arielle Levin Becker, April 8, 2014

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