Federal Analysts Believe Rate of Medical Errors Increasing a Decade After Prominent Study

In November 1999, the Institute of Medicine (“IOM”) issued a comprehensive report, authored by 22 top medical experts, titled “To Err is Human” in which it  concluded that approximately 98,000 people die each year from preventable medical errors.  Recently, a national investigation led by Hearst Newspapers, including the San Francisco Chronicle, found that the federal government, most states and the hospital industry have failed to take the recommended steps in that report to lower these figures and provide safer hospitals. 

One of the major recommendations in the IOM report called for a mandatory nationwide reporting system for medical errors.  When President Bill Clinton sought to introduce legislation requiring hospitals to make information about serious errors public, the American Medical Association and the American Hospital Association vehemently opposed that legislation.  In fact, in two years, those entities spent $81 million on lobbying and political donations designed to derail that effort.  These organizations claimed that mandatory reporting would drive medical errors underground.

Other key points of the IOM report that have been ignored include: Thousands of hospitals failed to improve the level of safety within their walls; the recommendation for a national patient safety center has fallen short of the funding goals and expectations; the recommendation to inform the public about unsafe conditions in hospitals has been ignored because 45 states do not provide hospital specific information.

The Hearst investigation found that hospitals can actually lose money by providing safer care.  They cite the example of Utah’s Intermountain hospital chain which, by improving a system for prescribing heart patients the proper medications on discharge, reduced re-hospitalizations by 900 beds a year resulting in a $3.5 million loss in revenue.

The authors report that the only way health care reform will happen will be if the payment system is changed to reward hospitals for the quality of their care not just the quantity.  In fact, Medicare recently stopped paying for eight types of medical errors. 


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