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New Ways To Improve Patient Safety

Great technological advances have been made in medicine over the past decade. Unfortunately, medical errors have not followed the same trajectory. In some areas of medicine, medical errors may have actually increased over the years. In many cases, medical mistakes are preventable. Researchers at the Harvard Business Review have highlighted new ways to increase patient safety and reduce medical errors.

According to a 1999 report from the U.S. Institute of Medicine, an estimated 44,000 to 98,000 people die every year because of preventable medical errors. Titled, “To Err is Human,” the report brought to light the staggering number of medical errors across the country. Even at the lower estimate, preventable medical mistakes accounted for more deaths than motor vehicle accidents, breast cancer, and AIDS.

Fifteen years later, there have been few significant improvements in preventing medical mistakes. Some doctors are resistant to change, including surgical checklists and standardized pre- and post-surgical procedures. Older approaches to increasing patient safety may have peaked. Researchers with the Harvard Business Review have proposed that innovations in surgery have to shift from technical aspects “to emphasizing how people, processes, and practices come together in the pursuit of patient safety.”

The article describes three waves of innovation in patient safety, technical advancements, standardizing procedures, and high reliability organizing. Standardizing procedures included the implementation of a checklist to provide a standard order of operation. This has yielded direct reductions in adverse events and patient death. Going forward, future innovations includes an attention to frontline practices and behaviors, leadership support, and a cultural shift toward teamwork and care coordination.

According to the article, “high reliability organizing rests on the notion that in order to achieve high performance – especially under trying conditions – we have to pay attention to how individuals interact with one another and organize their day-to-day work. Contrary to technical or structural innovations that aim to reduce variation and dictate one way of operating, organizing emphasizes the varying actions that can affect patient safety.”

One focus is on the response to problems once they are recognized. For example, different hospitals may react differently once a seminal complication starts. The “failure to rescue” results when the health care providers fail to recognize and treat all complications that follow. Future innovations may focus on the micro-system level of care, where teams of clinicians work together to improve patient safety. A significant part of this includes speaking up about potential problems and mistakes.

A new safety program developed by Johns Hopkins Medicine and the Armstrong Institute has already resulted in 33% reduction in surgical site infections in colorectal surgeries. The comprehensive unit-based safety program (CUSP) trains clinicians on the importance of teamwork, knowledge sharing, and communication.

If you have been injured as the result of medical misdiagnosis or mistreatment , the Gilman & Bedigian team is fully equipped to handle the complex process of bringing a medical malpractice claim on your behalf. Our staff, including a physician and attorneys with decades of malpractice litigation experience, will focus on getting your family compensation, so you can focus on healing and moving forward.

About the Author

Briggs Bedigian
Briggs Bedigian

H. Briggs Bedigian (“Briggs”) is a founding partner of Gilman & Bedigian, LLC.  Prior to forming Gilman & Bedigian, LLC, Briggs was a partner at Wais, Vogelstein and Bedigian, LLC, where he was the head of the firm’s litigation practice.  Briggs’ legal practice is focused on representing clients involved in medical malpractice and catastrophic personal injury cases. 


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