Why is patient safety a priority now?Patient safety has always been a priority. It is estimated that between 44,000-98,000 hospitalized Americans die each year as a result of medical errors. Recent media attention to medical errors, the costs in human suffering for patients and caregivers as well as the high financial cost make reducing medical errors and improving patient safety critical issues in healthcare today.
What are medical errors?A medical error occurs when a plan for medical care isn't carried out or when the wrong plan is used. Medical errors have been reported to occur in hospitals, doctor's offices, nursing homes, clinics, pharmacies and in patients' homes.
An example of a medical error could be when a health care provider chooses an inappropriate type of care, such as giving a patient a certain antibiotic without knowing that he or she was allergic to it. Or the health care provider chooses the appropriate care, but carries it out incorrectly. For example, a health care provider plans to feed a baby formula, but fails to dilute it and inadvertently gives the patient a concentrated dose.
Often, errors occur not because of poor performance by doctors, nurses, pharmacists or other health care providers, but rather as a result of the ways things are done. For example, the wrong medication is prescribed because the provider does not have the patient's complete information or there is a delay in beginning treatment because test results are not communicated to the health care provider.
How will the Betsy Lehman Center improve patient safety?Promoting a culture focused on patient safety requires a collaborative approach. The Betsy Lehman Center works to develop and promote relationships with health care entities, providers and consumers with the mutual goal being improvement in patient safety.
The center serves as a clearinghouse for the development, evaluation and dissemination of information related to patient safety. The center sponsors patient safety education and training. Through educational endeavors the center identifies best practices which will support health care providers in their efforts to improve patient safety.
The Betsy Lehman Center will collect and analyze patient safety information received from patients, families, health care entities and health care providers. This information will be monitored for the emergence of trends, and if they occur, patient safety alerts will be issued. By sharing the lessons learned from errors the goal will be to prevent the same errors from occurring again.
What are best practices?Best practices are standards of care that have been evaluated thoroughly by experts and have been shown to be the most effective way to lead to measurable improvement. A best practice serves as a model for others to follow. For example in order to reduce the risk of infection to patients health care workers use specific procedures when handling and processing the medications, supplies and equipment that come into contact with patients. The goal of best practices is to provide safer and more efficient ways of caring for patients.
What should I do if I think a medical error has compromised my health care?The first thing to do is contact your health care provider and discuss the incident which has occurred. Perhaps the problem is related to poor communication between you and your health care provider and sometimes talking about what happened helps. You might also consider contacting the patient advocate if you received care in a hospital or clinic. The patient advocate can provide you with a neutral person to whom you can direct concerns. Remember, all health providers want to deliver high quality, safe medical care. When problems occur, health care providers and institutions want to hear about them and work to prevent their reoccurrence.
There are additional resources available for citizens of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts to file a complaint related to concern about suboptimal health care.
The Division of Healthcare Quality, a division within the Massachusetts Department of Public Health investigates complaints against health care facilities and also investigates all complaints of patient abuses and neglect in long term care facilities.
The Board of Registration in Medicine in Massachusetts investigates complaints against physicians and acupuncturists holds hearings and determines sanctions.
The Betsy Lehman Center for Patient Safety and Medical Error Reduction established the position of patient safety ombudsman to work with patients, families and consumers on patient safety related problems. The role of the ombudsman is not regulatory and the goal is to provide assistance with referrals to appropriate contacts at health care facilities, state and federal agencies. The ombudsman is available via the Patient Safety Information Line: 888-624-5942.
This information is provided by the Betsy Lehman for Patient Safety and Medical Error Reduction within the Department of Public Health.