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Transparency will reduce the incidence of medical errors

By Rheingold Giuffra Ruffo Plotkin & Hellman LLP

New York physicians and other health care providers make more medical errors than most of their patients ever realize. According to a 2006 study by the Institute of Medicine, a branch of the National Academy of Sciences, as many as 1.5 million hospitalized Americans are injured every year as a result of medication errors alone. Just as many, if not more errors, take place that involve mistakes in diagnosis and other treatments.

The medical profession has a nickname for errors that take place but are caught before the error leads to a fatal outcome. They call these types of errors “near misses.” Because not even doctors can always detect their occurrence, there is no method to systematic study of the number of near misses that take place, but medical experts suspect that there are a large number of them.

Most health care professionals are deeply ashamed when they commit an error or know of a near miss. They often respond to errors with a deep need to hide their actions. For the most part, physicians, nurses and other medical professionals weren’t trained on how to deal with mistakes when they are attending medical school. The fear of medical malpractice actions is also a powerful deterrent to discussing these incidents more openly.

The first stage to controlling medical errors has to be admitting that such errors occur. The health care profession has many safeguards in place, from electronic prescriptions to reduce penmanship issues, to surgical checklists, all to minimize the occurrence of some of the most frequent types of oversights.

Transparency is being encouraged in many health care facilities in order to improve patient care. The more honest that health providers are about occasional mistakes, the better the health care provider community as a whole will be able to think of ways to prevent errors from occurring. Those who have been injured through a medical error may not be aware that they may be able to take legal steps that they can take to protect their patient rights.

Source: The New York Times, “My Near Miss“, Danielle Ofri, May 28, 2013

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