Why do medical errors or medical mistakes continue to happen? We read about efforts that are being made to improve surgical safety. Timeouts before surgery to make sure that everything is in order are common. Checking patient wristbands is standard practice. Asking patients to state their name and date of birth and whether they understand what procedure is being done has been added to the safety initiatives to improve safety. Yet, according to researchers at Johns Hopkins, many surgical errors or surgical mistakes that should never happen, continue to occur. Why?
Harvard University patient safety expert Lucian Leape, in reviewing the recent study noted that steeper financial penalties to hospitals for these avoidable mistakes is one measure to improve safety. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services currently punishes hospitals when preventable errors occur by withholding payment for repeat surgeries to fix medical mistakes or to treat preventable infections. Steep financial fines for preventable medical errors are one of a number of measures that will cause hospital administrators and CEOs to take safety seriously.
It is hard to believe that such medical mistakes as foreign objects being left behind, performing the wrong procedure on a patient, performing surgery on the wrong site and operating on the wrong patient occur at alarming rates. Rather than complain about the number of malpractice suits filed and the costs paid by insurance companies for these types of cases, hospitals and insurance companies should concentrate on stopping these never events. When they occur and unfortunately they will, the cost to treat patients and the harms and loses suffered should be the responsibility of the negligent hospital and doctor and not paid by taxpayers through medicare and medicaid coverage.
Medical malpractice lawsuits help improve patient safety by exposing the kind of medical mistakes that should never happen. Without lawsuits the true cause of these mistakes will be kept confidential and hospitals and doctors will continue to cause deadly mistakes and not be held accountable. We certainly hope that 2013 will be a safer year for all of us and that safety measures to prevent the preventable will take center stage for all hospitals and insurance companies.
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