The quest to make hospitals a safer place for their patients isn’t going as well as hoped, a new study analyzing harm from medical care reports.

The 2002-2007 study took place in 10 North Carolina hospitals and found that injury to patients was commonplace and instances did not decline over time.  The problems reported most in the study were hospital-acquired infections, complications from procedures, and adverse reactions to drugs.

Though the study was centralized in North Carolina Dr. Christopher P. Landrigan, lead author of the study, says “It is unlikely that other regions of the country have fared better.”  His team focused on North Carolina because the state’s hospitals are more involved in patient safety programs than other states.

The study’s results paint a pretty bleak picture of hospital safety.  18 percent of patients were injured by medical care on one or more occasions, and almost 65 percent of those injuries were found to be preventable.  A good portion of the damage done was temporary and/or treatable but some was quite serious, resulting in the death of 2.5 percent of the patients in the study.

Dr. Landrigan was not surprised by the findings, which showed many of the problems came down to the hospitals neglecting to use methods that had been proven to prevent infections and avoid harmful mistakes.  “Until there is a more coordinated effort to implement those strategies proven beneficial, I think that progress in patient safety will be very slow,” the doctor stated.

His research covered the records of 2,341 patients that treated at 10 hospitals both small and large.  A list of 54 red flags was used to indicate situations where something could have gone awry, which included the presence of bedsores, drugs used only to reverse an overdose, and the readmission of a patient to a hospital within 30 days.

Only 17 percent of the hospitals studied had computer systems used for ordering medications, which can reduce mistakes by up to 80 percent.  Because so few of the hospitals own these machines Dr. Landrigan and his team found injuries caused by drug errors in 162 of the cases. 

"We need a monitoring system that is mandatory," Dr. Landrigan said. "There has to be some mechanism for federal-level reporting, where hospitals across the country are held to it."

Unfortunately for patients, the reporting of medical errors or harm is voluntary, and that "vastly underestimates the frequency of errors and injuries that occur," he said.

Leah Binder, CEO of patient safety organization The Leapfrog Group, says it is crucial that hospitals be more transparent when it comes to reporting problems.

"What we know works in a general sense is a competitive open market where consumers can compare providers and services," she said. "Right now you ought to be able to know the infection rate of every hospital in your community."

For hospitals with poor scores, there should be consequences, Ms. Binder said: "And the consequences need to be the feet of the American public."

Should you find yourself the victim of an injury due to hospital negligence or error, contact an attorney.  You may be entitled to compensation for what you went through.  Your pursuing a claim can also have a positive effect for others.   The more people bring claims against hospitals for preventable errors, the sooner they will have to start changing their procedures.

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