Caroselli, Beachler & Coleman, L.L.C.

Acknowledging medical errors can improve patient care

Would it surprise Pennsylvania residents to discover that the family physician they love and trust has committed at least one error over the course of his or her medical practice that has put the health of a patient at risk? It's probably true.

Medical errors are more common than most patients realize. In 2006, the Institute of Medicine, a branch of the National Academies, published a study showing that at least 1.5 million medication errors occur every year that put hospital patients at risk for adverse health outcomes. Many medical experts believe that this is just the tip of the iceberg.

Medical errors involve many different aspects of patient care including diagnosis, medications, surgery, lab reports and equipment. There are many reasons why medical errors take place, and a large number of them involve the difficulty of communication between health team members in complex healthcare systems. One thing's for sure, however: Medical errors cannot be prevented if their existence is not acknowledged.

Health care professionals are frequently deeply ashamed when they catch themselves in an error. Often, they are able to correct their mistakes before they do any harm to their patients. Nevertheless, lapses in judgment or communication, even in the absence of an adverse outcome, do count as errors. In hospital parlance, this type of error is referred to as a "near miss." Health care providers are also daunted by the specter of medical malpractice claims and the rising cost of medical malpractice insurance premiums.

Many of the preventive measures that have been put into effect over the last few years have been the result of health care provider errors. Often, such errors are symptomatic of systemic problems that need to be corrected. By speaking out freely about medical errors, health care professionals make the process of providing health care more transparent, and this leads to higher quality healthcare for all patients. In instances where health care providers have committed egregious errors, however, patients may still be best served by assistance from an experienced malpractice attorney.

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

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Caroselli, Beachler & Coleman, L.L.C.
20 Stanwix Street, Seventh Floor
Pittsburgh, PA 15222

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