Think Before You Treat

The number of accidental deaths that occur each year in federally-operated hospitals continues to disturb medical experts. These deaths, completely unexpected in most instances, appear to have been caused in large part by unintentional errors caused by staffers each year that sometimes result in the loss of lives of patients under their care. Those who follow this phenomenon say that billions of dollars, all of it paid for by taxpayers, have been spent in the so-far unsuccessful effort to curb these absolutely accidental but unnecessary deaths.

The Obama Administration has decided the only viable way to curb these deaths is to radically overall the entire system, and earlier this year it put a program into place to plan how to do that. Accordingly, it has undertaken that worthy mission, with the number one priority being that patient safely receives the highest and uppermost priority of all changes to be made.

Dr. Donald M. Derwick notes in his book that, “more than a decade ago, the Institute of Medicine issued its landmark report: To Err is Human,” which then claimed that between a low of 44,000 and a high of 98,000 patients died each year in hospitals across America due to unintended medical errors.

Since the publishing of that book, extraordinary efforts have been undertaken by federal and state officials to lower the risks from unintentional human error. But, according to Dr. Derwick, no great advances were made during the two term presidency of George W. Bush. However, in the first term since President Obama took office, a new effort has been undertaken to end the risks that are posed by unintentional human error in federal hospitals, and by the end of his first term, the mortality percentage of accidental death had been cut more than in half. Yet, according to Dr. Derwick, much yet remains to be done.

Now, according to an organization calling itself, The Partnership of Patients, a new coalition that launched in April, 2011 by the Department of Health and Human Services to seek innovative improvements in the federal work place, has shown its methods can be effective. The Partnership says its program offers a two pronged answer that shows promise of succeeding, at least substantially if not totally.

What the program essentially does is to create more pressure on hospital administrations to keep the pressure on employees to work harder to eliminate all potential causes for the patient deaths, and to aggressively push to improve the quality of and frequency of training of personnel who treat the patients to master the latest technology before they are allowed to work in hospitals.

Upgrades are also important factors, Derrick suggests, in offering better service to patients, the author suggests, but extreme care must be taken, he cautions, to ensure that those who administer the care know the difference between what one medication does as opposed to others. The differences are critical to the care and welfare of the patients, and literally are a matter of life or death.

Dr. Derrick writes that, “The goals are bold, the time frame is aggressive and the scale is large,” involving thousands of hospitals across the nation. To do that as soon as possible and as thoroughly as possible, he recommend a federal commitment to the upgrading by at least $1 billion right away.

Beyond the federal commitment to provide the money to make federal hospitals safer for people who are patients there, he adds that there are other things that need to also be done in both the public and private sectors of the nation.

What he thinks should lead the way, the author adds, has to be a re-alignment of the public and private sectors so that collaboration among all stakeholders who work together in the massive system is improved. Each hand, he indicates, has to know what the other hands are doing, and also know what is different about the medications that are being carried in those hands.

It is also vital, he claims, to make it easier for information to be sent to every person at every hospital who needs to learn what new changes are in place, and how hospital personnel must adapt to the massive responsibility to patients who are now victims of inadequate treatment.

What Partnership for Patients hopes to accomplish early on is its top priority: to find an easy-to-learn process and a workable method to accelerate the reduction of harm to patients in hospitals as soon as possible. Goals are being set at a high level, and hospital administrators will be expected to implement them as soon as possible and lead a hospital by hospital follow-up to ensure the new rules are implemented, understood by workers and followed to the letter.

The federal incentive, he says, seeks to attain at least a 40 percent decrease in preventable harm to patents – deadly or not – by 2018 over the rate achieved in 2015 by hospitals, a decrease that would save 60,000 lives a year at minimum.