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Report Highlights Recent Coverage On Medical Errors

Armen Hareyan's picture

Medical Errors

Two newspapers recently reported on medical errors. Summaries appear below.

  • Drugerrors: Instances in which patients are injured after receiving thewrong medication or dosage from a hospital have doubled in the last 10years, and at least 1.5 million U.S. residents are involved in suchincidents each year, the Los Angeles Times reports. Reports to FDAon serious injuries resulting from hospital drug errors have increasedfrom about 35,000 in 1998 to about 90,000 in 2005, according to areport in the Archives of Internal Medicine. Deaths frommedication errors tripled during that time period, with 5,000 in 1998and 15,000 in 2005. The errors can occur when pharmacists stock drugsimproperly, nurses neglect to double-check treatments or physicianswrite the medication order illegibly. One solution is to use a systemin which the drugs are labeled with a bar code that is swiped and runthrough a computer system that checks the dosage and medication. FDArequires drug manufacturers to place bar codes on the packaging ofmedications, and most do so, according to Allen Vaida, executive vicepresident of the Institute for Safe Medication Practices.Hospital administrators and other health care officials have beendiscussing the issue of drug errors and solutions to the problem forthe last few years. Albert Wu, a professor of health policy andmanagement at Johns Hopkins University,said, "Errors are disturbingly common," adding, "The health care systemhas to take a step back and invest more in research and improvingpatient safety. Until it does, these kinds of incidents will keephappening" (Lin/Watanabe, Los Angeles Times, 11/22).
  • Medical chart errors: Physicians using the networking Web site Sermo this summer discussed accuracy of medical charts, the AP/St. Louis Post-Dispatchreports. Postings from doctors revealed not only that these errors werecommon but also that some doctors noted errors in their own medicalcharts as patients. Errors can appear on charts through several ways,including time-crunched doctors taking shortcuts or not listeningcarefully to patients, physicians relying on memory to update charts,charts being filled out illegibly or coding problems causing errors.These errors can lead to inaccurate diagnosis or drug errors that couldbe serious, according to the AP/Post-Dispatch. Gerald Kominski, associate director of the University of California-Los Angeles' Center for Health Policy Research,said, "There is an implicit trust," adding, "Most of us want to believeour doctors are hearing what we're saying and are accurately reportingthat in our medical history" (Chang, AP/St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 11/22).

Reprinted with permission from kaisernetwork.org. Youcan view the entire Kaiser DailyHealth Policy Report, search the archives, and sign up for email deliveryat kaisernetwork.org/email. The Kaiser Daily HealthPolicy Report is published for kaisernetwork.org, a free service of The HenryJ. Kaiser Family Foundation.