New reporting system may cut down on medical errors

A new program at Johns Hopkins, one of the foremost medical centers in the country, is showing promise in reducing the number of errors made by medical professionals. Medical mistakes injure thousands of people each year and can cause birth injuries, failures in diagnoses and other dangerous errors, so clearly, anything that can be done to reduce their frequency is a good thing.

The “Good Catch Award” encourages medical professionals to report risky incidents before something bad happens, as opposed to only saying something after an incident has occurred. Organizers say that simple change in reporting possible sources of concern has led to 27 “potentially life-saving” changes to procedure at Johns Hopkins in just 24 months.

One reason for the early success of the Good Catch Award is that it focuses on systems as opposed to people. That is because many surgical errors are the result of imperfect procedures, medical experts say, rather than one person’s behavior. Many of the incidents that were reported during the pilot program at Johns Hopkins were unsafe conditions that had not yet resulted in patient harm, but nonetheless posed a serious risk. Until the Good Catch Award was implemented, these conditions went unreported because people thought there needed to be an incident to justify their saying something.

The Good Catch Award also focuses on rewarding whistleblowers and others for good behavior rather than publicly humiliating those who make mistakes. It is hoped this more positive focus will make efforts to cut down on surgical errors a more pleasant experience, thus making it easier to sustain in the long run.

So far, the Good Catch Award is only being operated at Johns Hopkins. Although the program is fairly new, it seems it would be a good fit for other hospitals as well. Until such a reporting system is widespread, patients will have to count on attorneys who represent the interests of those who are injured by medical negligence. It would be best if medical errors were never made in the first place, of course, but mistakes are a fact of life and at least these lawyers can help make those who are harmed whole again.

Source: Fierce Healthcare, “Hospital workers rewarded for reporting errors before they happen,” Alicia Carmenico, Sept. 12, 2011

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