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Medical Mistakes: Tracking Trail of Errors in Operating Rooms Tricky

09/22/2014
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Nearly half a million Americans die each year from hospital mishaps that, more often than not, are preventable. Foreign objects left in patients’ bodies during surgeries, air bubbles entering patients’ veins via faulty IVs and transfusions of wrong blood types are some examples.

Finding out how many medical mistakes make their way into hospitals has become more difficult because of a move made by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. The government agency reportedly stopped documenting eight “hospital-acquired conditions,” or HACs, that could have been avoided by better quality-care protocols.

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“The change, which the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) denied last year that it was making, means people are out of luck if they want to search which hospitals cause high rates of problems…,” a USA Today article reads.

Following exposure of the government’s consumer-unfriendly policy shift, patient-safety groups started an immediate offensive.

“People deserve to know if the hospital down the street from them had a disastrous event and should be able to judge for themselves whether that’s a reasonable indicator of the safety of that hospital,” Leah Binder, of the Leapfrog Group, told USA Today.

The problem is serious. Healthcare researchers said the “preventable adverse events,” or PAEs, that kill 440,000 patients annually are the third-leading cause of death in the United States and add up to tens of billions of dollars in lawsuits.

The problem also is unacceptable.

“In a sense, it does not matter whether the deaths of 100,000, 200,000 or 400,000 Americans each year are associated with PAEs in hospitals,” healthcare researchers write in the Journal of Patient Safety. “Any of the estimates demands assertive action on the part of providers, legislators, and people who will one day become patients.”

The Journal of Patient Safety sources go even further, accusing corporate titans of lobbying politicians to limit hospital accountability, as well as legal remedies, when loved ones die from horrific healthcare accidents. A bill doing just that is in Congress and is titled the “Help Efficient, Accessible, Low Cost, Timely, Health Care (HEALTH) Act of 2011.” Its purpose: “To improve patient access to health care services and provide improved medical care by reducing the excessive burden the liability system places on the health care delivery system.”

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