Patient Safety Should Be a Given, But It’s Not. Here’s Why.

Botched surgeries, infections, adverse medication reactions, and misdiagnoses sound like things you would only see on a primetime drama. But in reality, they happen far more often in our nation’s hospitals than most people think.  

A recent study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that one in four patients admitted to a hospital will experience harm. Most concerning: A significant number of these adverse incidents are preventable. In fact, of the patients whose health was negatively impacted, almost a quarter of all adverse events were preventable. 

The sobering conclusion is that patient safety in America has a long way to go. 

Medical Errors Are Still Common

Over 20 years ago, the Institute of Medicine published the watershed report To Err Is Human, documenting a staggering number of medical errors occurring in American hospitals and calling on the medical community to reduce patient harm. According to the report, anywhere from 44,000 to 98,000 people die annually from hospital medical errors. 

And yet, even with improvements, thousands of preventable medical errors persist every single year. 

“These numbers are disappointing, but not shocking,” said lead study author Dr. David Bates, the chief of general medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and the medical director of clinical and quality analysis for Mass General Brigham in Boston. “They do show we still have lots of work to do.”

Overworked and Understaffed Teams Lead to Mistakes

Another recent report that surveyed patients AND nurses at 535 hospitals in two states found that staff is also concerned with the number of patient errors. Between 2005 and 2016, only 21% of hospitals showed sizable improvement. Some of the most common issues contributing to mistakes in hospitals include:

  • Staff shortages
  • Broken or missing supplies
  • Patient safety is not a top priority for management
  • Management does not listen to nurses and doctors
  • Staff is disciplined for reporting issues
  • Poor working conditions for nurses
  • Weak or nonexistent error-reporting systems


What You Can Do to Take Care of Your Own Safety

You are your best advocate! Take charge of your safety by being an informed decision-maker and advocating for yourself (or a loved one) with these tips from the Pulse Center for Patient Safety Education and Advocacy:

  • Understand and complete your advanced directive.
    An “advanced directive” is a document you can sign before treatment to help ensure that your wishes are known and respected if you cannot communicate for yourself. Also, designate someone to speak on your behalf when you can’t.
  • Keep a record of your medical history and medications.
    A detailed medical history is essential knowledge for any doctor or care provider. Bring a list of all current medications and/or supplements to every medical appointment, along with a list of any known drug allergies.
  • Preparation, preparation, preparation.
    Prepare a list of questions and symptoms you may have before every doctor visit, medical test, or procedure.
  • Prevent infections by insisting on cleanliness.
    One in 25 people who are hospitalized will get an infection. Help stop infections by asking all caregivers to wash their hands. 
  • Use an advocate/be an advocate for others.
    Bring a loved one to support you, raise questions, take notes, and press for patient-centered care. And be that advocate for someone else!

Preventable adverse events during hospitalization are a major cause of patient harm. If you’ve been injured due to a medical error and wish to discuss the specifics of your case in a free consultation with an experienced Tucson personal injury lawyer, please contact us today.