Recently, we wrote an article that detailed how human and medical errors – in hospital and doctor’s office settings – are the third leading cause of death in the United States each and every year.
It is a frightening but true fact that hospitals – the places that we go to maintain and improve our health and save our lives – can also be extremely dangerous, even deadly, places. The Wall Street Journal has released numbers from NASA’s chief toxicologist, and these numbers reflect the same degree of severity when it comes to hospital dangers. In 2013 alone, the number of people who lost their lives from medical errors was somewhere between 210,000 and 440,000.
While progress has been made in several areas, such as hospital-based infections, other areas are still lacking. Misdiagnoses, or the failure to diagnose, account for roughly 100,000 deaths annually. But, there are ways in which the medical system can improve – and continue to improve – that could potentially limit the number of lives lost or severely altered.
There are five main ways to start affecting these numbers, and as simple as some of them may seem, until they are put into effect and practice, serious mistakes will continue being made.
To continue fighting against hospital-acquired infections, it is recommended that hospitals follow CDC guidelines. The CDC guidelines on how to sterilize and safely maintain medical items only has to be followed after there has been an outbreak of some sort. But, if the CDC guidelines were followed on a day-to-day basis, equipment, air, patient rooms, water sources and even more would be held to highly regimented and much safer standard.
Next is to make medical records – especially electronic health records – shared across health care providers. Doctors who have your patient history, containing a slew of important medical information, including potential, pending medical diagnoses, do not have to share this information with other health care providers that are outside of their own facility. But, imagine if doctors did have to share this information. It would mean that the patient who has to see two different doctors who practice two different specialty types – and out of two different locations, no less – does not have to worry about the second doctor knowing about their preexisting conditions, pending diagnoses and current treatments, instead, this information will have already been shared and everyone would be on the same page.
Another major issue in the medical field is when shift-changes take place. There is often a breakdown in communication and because so many people die due to medical errors, this is an area in particular that is in dire need of improvement. It is recommended that when ”hand-offs” (when one resident or nurse hands off patient information to the next resident and/or nurse) take place that they should be done in a formal, structured way. If during shift change, hand-offs included information on the severity of illness, crisis planning and medical actions needed the process would run more effectively and safely.
The last two areas involve having pharmacists present in hospital settings, perhaps even during “rounds” as well as continuing to cut down on diagnostic errors and misdiagnoses. When it comes to pharmacists, just imagine the world of difference it could make when it came to prescribing medications. Because there is often a lack of communication across departments and/or specialties, many instances where medications adversely affect one another, sometimes fatally, occur. In studies that have taken place so far, when pharmacists are on-site with patients, the actual medication errors occurring decreased by 45% and the amount of errors that would have led to serious injury or death plummeted 94%. When it comes to reducing diagnostic errors and misdiagnoses the recommendation is fairly similar: to have more than just one doctor bear the responsibility of diagnoses. Similarly to bringing pharmacists along when it comes to prescribing medications, doctors could join with radiologists and pathologists and assess and discuss diagnostic possibilities for all patients.
Hospitals, doctors and nurses save hundreds of thousands of lives but work within an often confusing and complex system. If that system was to be structured differently, and in accordance to CDC guidelines, the positive results for patients and their families would continue to be seen and even more lives would be saved daily.
If you or someone you know has been injured by a health care provider’s negligence, our Philadelphia medical malpractice attorneys at Galfand Berger, LLP can help. With offices located in Philadelphia, Reading and Bethlehem, we serve clients throughout Pennsylvania and New Jersey. To schedule a free consultation, call us at 800-222-8792 or complete our online contact form.