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Doctors, not hospital procedures to blame for majority of medical errors

The way our health care system is set up, doctors are afforded a tremendous amount of responsibility and trust. When an Illinois resident goes to the doctor or hospital, he or she is often seen by one doctor who is solely responsible for conducting an examination, diagnosing any health problems, establishing a treatment plan and ensuring for proper follow-up care. If a mistake is made at any point during this process, a patient may suffer harm, injury and even death.

U.S. research and studies related to medical errors show that at least 100,000 patients die annually as a result of preventable medical mistakes. In 1999, the Institute of Medicine presented a report to members of the U.S. Congress which became the driving force behind the institution of many changes in how hospitals operated. Some patient safety advocates argue, however, that hospitals have failed to address a key issue that may pose the most danger to patients.

In an effort to reduce medical mistakes, after the 1999 report, hospitals around the country began putting systematic methods in place. These changes included utilizing safety checklists, administering certain drugs upon a patient’s admission and the adoption of electronic medical records. However, despite the widespread adoption of these and other system methods, the number of patient deaths attributed to medical errors has not significantly decreased.

Some argue a systematic approach to reducing medical errors is not effective, because the majority of medical mistakes are committed by individual health care providers, namely doctors. Backing this argument is one study in which a statistician from the national Practitioner Data Bank reviewed medical malpractice lawsuits spanning a 20-year period. Of those lawsuits that resulted in a payout, half were attributable to the errors of just two percent of practicing U.S. doctors.

Despite this type of evidence, the mistakes of a poorly trained or incompetent doctor often go unreported and unpunished. For example, statistically a U.S. hospital “revokes the privileges of one doctor every 20 years”. This and other similar statistics related to how the mistakes of individual doctors are rarely reported means that those responsible for the majority of medical errors are allowed to continue to practice and put patients at risk.

Source: Los Angeles Times, “When medical errors kill,” Philip Levitt, March 14, 2014


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