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Reducing medical mistakes through patient-centered practices

As the debate over the Patient First Reform Package continues in Lansing and across Michigan, we thought it would be helpful to ask: How can we reduce medical malpractice costs in a way that truly puts patients first?

The answer to that question should be a no-brainer: reduce medical malpractice.

Many are arguing that frivolous medical malpractice lawsuits are driving doctors away and forcing malpractice insurance costs to skyrocket. Yet, according to the study by Health Affairs we discussed in our last blog post, 11 percent of doctors admit to lying to patients and one-third of all doctors do not believe it is important to disclose their medical mistakes to their patients.

Which begs the question: Is it really the patients who are sue-happy or the doctors who are afraid of facing their mistakes?

How can we reduce medical malpractice?

There have been strides in reducing medical malpractice throughout the country. For example, electronic patient records are becoming more and more commonplace, reducing the number of communication errors that can cause malpractice. As we have discussed, Children's Hospital in Colorado added pictures to their electronic health records and has since significantly reduced the number of misplaced orders and medical tests.

Similarly, the number of infections contracted in hospitals has dropped more than 50 percent at some hospitals because of legislation that requires hospitals to report preventable infections in patients. The Michigan Health & Hospital Association Keystone Center and John Hopkins University developed a checklist for preventing infections involving central-line catheterization. Through that checklist alone, infections in Michigan hospitals dropped more than 65 percent.

Focused efforts to reduce medical errors can lead to a safer healthcare system as well as fewer medical malpractice lawsuits. Some larger steps that we as a society can take include:

  • Advocating for legal reforms focused on preventing legal errors
  • Collecting more data on all forms of medical errors (and requiring that data through regulations)
  • Using research to develop additional techniques to help medical professionals do their jobs more accurately
  • Training doctors to take steps to avoid malpractice and encouraging healthy habits (including getting enough sleep)

When patient safety is involved, there is always more than can be done. By taking proactive measures to document errors and create patient-friendly laws, we can prevent medical malpractice and, in turn, reduce costs.

Source: The Atlantic, "Medical Mistakes in Half by 2017 to Save Lives and Money," David B. Kendall, May 23, 2012.

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