Ten years ago, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) published a ground-breaking report on medical errors, To Err is Human: Building a Safer Health System, which triggered a dialogue among medical professionals and public interest groups now referred to as the “patient safety movement.” The report, published in 2000, found that nearly 100,000 people die each year due to medical errors caused by “faulty systems, processes and conditions that lead [medical professionals] to make mistakes or fail to prevent them.”
Ten years later, although we have seen marginal improvement in terms of awareness and in certain areas of patient safety, people continue to suffer catastrophic injury or death caused by preventable medical errors at alarming rates. Indeed, according to a new investigative report called “Dead By Mistake”, released by the Hearst Corporation, an estimated 200,000 people will die in 2009 due to preventable medical errors and hospital infections. Passen & Powell’s medical negligence lawyers are committed representing the rights of those individuals and families who fall victim to acts of preventable medical errors.
The 2000 IOM report recommended a series of systematic corrections to “make it harder for people to do something wrong and easier for them to do it right.” And although strides have certainly been made, reports such as “Dead By Mistake” and a previous post on Intensive Care Unit deaths due to hospital infections show how systemic corrections have not gone far enough, and medical professionals still must be held accountable for their actions in the interest of patient safety.
Dr. Robert M Wachter, a professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco and a national leader on patient safety, in a recent New York Times interview advocated for doctor accountability. To illustrate the point, Dr. Wachter points to a problem that has been discussed on this blog and in other studies: hand washing. It is well documented that not washing hands before or after a procedure can lead to infection, which can in turn lead to death. Dr. Wachter points out a flaw in patient safety enforcement: a doctor can lose his or her hospital privileges by violating regulations, such as not signing a dictated discharge summary or operative note, but no such penalty exists for failure to wash his or her hands.
There is a growing body of evidence to suggest that openly disclosing and apologizing to patients and family when mistakes happen can lead to an increase in patient safety as well as satisfaction, and may obviate the need to file a medical malpractice lawsuit. Both the University of Illinois hospitals and the University of Michigan hospitals have seen a significant decrease in number of medical malpractice cases filed against them after initiating such a practice. At Michigan, from August 2001 to August 2007, cases fell from 262 to 83. At the University of Illinois, only six settlements were more than the hospital’s medical and related expenses. However, patients should still contact an experienced medical malpractice attorney before agreeing to settle with a doctor or hospital — it’s not uncommon for hospitals (and their lawyers) to try to take advantage of patients and their families with the offer of an apology and a “quick settlement” to absolve themselves of future liability.
For a Free Consultation with a top-rated Chicago medical malpractice lawyer, call Passen & Powell at (312) 527-4500.