According to a study published in the most recent issue of The New England Journal of Medicine, patient safety has not improved since a landmark study ten years ago that put the number of patient deaths due to medical error at 98,000 annually in American hospitals. That landmark study, conducted by The Institute of Medicine, also estimated that one million Americans each year are injured by non-fatal medical errors.
Experts hoped that the shocking death tally in the Institute of Medicine study would spur improvements in patient safety. But, as the new research reveals, those hoped for improvements have not materialized.
The new research was done by looking at ten randomly selected hospitals in North Carolina, a state that was believed to be making strides in improving patient safety. The researchers studied 2,341 hospital admissions from 2002 to 2007 and found that medical errors were made in one quarter of the cases. Ten percent of those – or 2.5% of the total admissions – were the victims of potentially life-threatening medical errors.
Dr. Christopher P. Landrigan, lead author of the new study, says, “We were disappointed but not very surprised [by the results].”
How can doctors improve patient safety? Landrigan points to reducing the number of hours worked by sleep-deprived residents, following medical checklists and implementation of electronic medical records as important steps to take, all measures that we have blogged about here, here, here and here.
Landrigan also says that we need to create a nationwide system for reporting injuries due to medical errors. Such a system would help researchers identify areas of repeated mistakes.
- “Temporal Trends in Rate of Patient Harm Resulting From Medical Care” (New England Journal of Medicine)
- “Study: No Improvement in Hospital Safety” (WebMD)
- “Study Finds No Progress In Safety at Hospitals” (New York Times)