Study: No improvement in hospital safety over the past decade

A study recently published in the New England Journal of Medicine indicates that despite increased awareness of risk due to hospital errors, mistakes made in a medical setting have not decreased in frequency over the last decade.

WebMD cites a 1999 study that measured a million injuries and nearly 100,000 deaths per year attributed to medical errors. Most of the injuries were not life-threatening- an example would a be a urinary tract infection or pressure ulcer- but more than half the deaths cited in a more recent study were deemed to be “preventable.” The more recent data tracked nearly 2,500 admissions in which fourteen patients died.

Christopher Paul Landrigan, MD of Harvard Medical School theorized that more widespread adoption of electronic record-keeping might improve patient safety statistics:

“We know it works,” Landrigan says. But, he added, “these types of changes are a challenge; the health care industry has deeply established history and traditions.”

Also needed, he says, is a nationwide system for reporting harm due to medical errors. Such a system would enable researchers such as Landrigan to better track what helps — and what harms — patients. He would also like to see hospitals coordinate with one another when devising and implementing patient safety strategies.

“We are just at the beginning of improving patient safety,” Landrigan says. “I’m very hopeful that things will get better.”

Landrigan also cited overworked residents and basic infection control measures like handwashing as areas where most hospitals could improve safety.