Medical Errors Take Focus During Patient Safety Awareness Week

stethescope.jpgThe National Patient Safety Foundation (NPSF) is sponsoring its annual Patient Safety Awareness Week from March 4 to March 10. This year, the non-profit Boston organization is focused on increasing awareness about ongoing industry safety efforts and ways both health care professionals and patients can advance them to prevent injuries from medical errors.

The medical community will introduce a new professional certification this week, the Certified Professional in Patient Safety credential. Medical professionals from all disciplines can seek the certification. The NPSF is also focusing on patient engagement and calling on patients and families to communicate and partner with providers on safety efforts. It has released a new Ask Me 3 video, in which it advises patients to ask doctors:

  • What is my main problem?
  • What do I need to do?
  • Why is it important for me to do this?

Patients are advised to carry a notebook and pen and write down the answers to each question. Massachusetts patients can also take these additional measures to protect themselves from medical mistakes:

Physician Profiles Database. You can search for a doctor’s safety record in the state’s Physician Profiles database. The database provides information on criminal convictions, medical malpractice payments and board disciplinary actions during the past 10 years. Click here for the Physician Profiles database.

Online Research. There are many reputable websites which provide information on medical conditions, procedures and hospitals. One database is Medicare’s Hospital Compare, which compiles of a wide range of data, including patient surveys and hospital death rates compared to the national average. Click here for the Hospital Compare database.

Patient’s Advocate. Massachusetts law affords you the right to have a patient’s advocate with you at medical appointments. Having a patient’s advocate allows you to focus on communicating with the medical professional, while your advocate writes down important treatment instructions, the doctor’s response to your questions or ask their own questions when they observe unusual things.

Medical Records. You have an absolute right to obtain your medical records in Massachusetts. You do not have to disclose your reason for seeking your medical records. But you can expect to be charged for photocopies so ask for an estimated fee in advance.

Ask Questions Before Surgery. Talk to your surgeon before the day of the surgery and ask questions at the hospital. Questions may include how does the hospital sterilize its equipment and does the medical staff utilize a written patient safety checklist to make sure they do not miss a step.

Avoiding Medication Errors. Medication errors can happen at the hospital or your regular pharmacy. Before you leave the pharmacy, check the drug name, dose and open the bottle to make sure the medications are imprinted with the drug name and strength. If not, ask the pharmacist to show you the bottle from which medication was dispensed.


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Doctors Must Protect Patients and Report Unsafe Colleagues

A recent study published by The Journal of the American Medical Association highlights the need for more physicians to report colleagues who endanger patient safety.

The study, conducted by doctors at Massachusetts General Hospital, surveyed 3,000 doctors nationwide about reporting colleagues who are incompetent or who engage in substance abuse or other improper behavior. More than one-third responded that they do not fully support the idea that these doctors should be reported, according to a Boston Globe editorial on the study. Just over one-third of doctors with direct knowledge of a colleague’s impairment kept quiet.

While many states mandate reporting, the study found many physicians did not act because they thought someone else was already handling the problem. Other reasons included fear of retribution and cultural differences. The study found minorities and doctors with degrees from overseas were less likely to report peers.

Beyond reporting mandates, the right to practice medicine is a privilege. Because patients’ lives are at stake, there must be zero tolerance for physicians not reporting any medical professional engaging in suspect behavior.

Medicine is a profession, not a club where doctors should be allowed to protect each other above and beyond patients. Hospitals and senior physicians need to embrace the idea of reporting so other doctors understand their obligation.

The Boston medical malpractice lawyers at Breakstone, White & Gluck have extensive experience handling complex medical malpractice claims, including medication errors, failure to diagnose cancer and surgical malpractice. We have seen first-hand how doctors who ignore a colleague’s improper actions endanger patient safety. These doctors need to remember there are consequences and in their profession, those consequences can come at a moment’s notice.

To read an abstract of the study, visit The Journal of the American Medical Association.

To read an editorial about the study, visit The Boston Globe.
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Massachusetts Patient Safety Grants Target Medical Liability

Massachusetts and several other states have been awarded $25 million in patient safety grants from the Department of Health and Human Services. The funds will be used to implement medical care reform and establish plans for reducing future errors.

The funding is part of a patient safety and medical liability initiative announced by President Barack Obama in September 2009.

The Massachusetts Department of Public Health received funding to involve clinicians, patients, medical malpractice insurers and state officials in a discussion about medical errors and malpractice. The goal is to improve efficiency in all aspects of medical care and reduce medical errors resulting in severe personal injury and death.

The grants were awarded in two categories. Three-year awards of up to $3 million will allow states and health systems to implement and evaluate patient safety and medical liability demonstrations. One-year grants of up to $300,000 are for states and health systems to establish a plan for reviewing patient safety in the future.

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said: “This new research is the largest government investment connecting medical liability to quality and aims to improve the overall quality of health care.”

The Boston medical malpractice lawyers at Breakstone, White & Gluck view this grant as a critical move in improving medical care. Each year, 195,000 people die as a result of preventable medical errors and even more sustain life-altering personal injuries.
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Patient Safety Falls Short at Same-Day Surgery Centers, Study Finds

A new federal study found many same-day surgery centers have serious problems with infection control procedures.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention visited 68 centers in Maryland, North Carolina and Oklahoma and found 67 percent of the centers had at least one lapse in infection control. Some 57 percent were cited for deficiencies. The patient safety lapses included failure to wash hands, wear gloves and clean blood glucose meters. Clinics also reused medical devices meant for one person. The study did not examine if the lapses led to patient infections.

The study, reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association this week, comes as the nation’s 5,000-plus outpatient centers perform more than 6 million procedures and collect $3 billion from Medicare each year.

“This study should be a wake up call to physicians performing relatively minor surgical procedures at walk-in clinics,” according to Boston attorney Marc L. Breakstone. “All surgeons must have zero tolerance for lax infection control procedures, which can expose patients to life-threatening infections.” According to Breakstone, the risks of serious injury to patients from staph and hepatitis infections are as great in the small center as in the large hospital setting.

The study was prompted by a hepatitis C outbreak in Las Vegas believed to be caused by unsafe injection practices at two clinics. The clinics have been closed.

For more information, read this Boston Globe article about infection control problems at US same-day surgery centers.

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