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Addressing medical mistakes in a culture of secrecy

Every day, doctors are entrusted with life-or-death situations. However, they are human and mistakes do happen. Sometimes, those mistakes result in another person being seriously injured or even killed.

In an ideal world, we would all hope that doctors would take an opportunity to reflect on their mistakes and learn from the experiences. They could even use their mistakes to educate their colleagues and prevent the same thing from happening again.

Unfortunately, this type of reflection does not occur nearly as often as it should. Instead, many doctors report that they feel pressured to pretend mistakes never happen. No one likes to admit failure, and many medical facilities worry that taking responsibility for their physicians' mistakes could open them up to liability in medical malpractice lawsuits.

Proposed system would track mistakes

It is disheartening that this culture continues to exist, especially in an age where data sharing can be so simple. Hopefully, leaders in the medical community will take heed of calls to improve transparency in the system.

In the meantime, government regulators are developing other ways to reveal and address medical mistakes. In one such project, the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, which is part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, is developing a consumer reporting system to track medical mistakes that endanger patient safety.

The program would allow patients and caregivers to report mistakes or "near misses," either by phone, online or at a kiosk in the hospital. AHRQ would then collect that data for use in research about patient safety. The data would also be shared with doctors and health care facilities in an effort to help them reduce error rates.

The data would also be shared with the public, allowing consumers to make more educated healthcare decisions. There is also hope that the information could be used to develop comprehensive hospital safety ratings.

The high cost of medical errors

The injuries caused by medical errors take a huge toll on individual patients and the healthcare system as a whole.

On an individual level, medical mistakes can be devastating. At best, victims will have to endure the added burden and expense of undergoing additional medical care to correct the mistake. In worse situations, the mistake could leave the patient with permanent injury, pain and disability. In too many cases, medical errors end up being life-ending mistakes.

Medical errors also draw needed resources from the rest of the healthcare system. For example, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services estimates that mistakes in the Medicare population cost an average of $324 million every month.

No one should ever have to suffer from a medical mistake. Hopefully, AHRQ's program will help increase accountability and reduce error rates throughout the healthcare system.

If you or a loved one is injured due to a medical mistake, consult with a medical malpractice lawyer as you may be entitled to compensation for your losses.

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Anderson Law Offices, LLC 17138 Lorain Avenue, Suite 211 | Cleveland, OH 44111
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