Every year in the United States, 98,000 people die from medical errors. And while every medical procedure has an inherent level of risk — for example, even when everyone involved does everything absolutely right, some surgeries will result in infection or other complications — medical errors exponentially increase that level of risk and lead to unnecessary, avoidable suffering and death.
As a physician, I’ve seen first-hand the carelessness and negligence that can lead to costly, painful, and even deadly errors, and I know how simple some of the most important, most effective fixes can be. As a practicing medical malpractice lawyer, I know that hospitals and doctors who endanger our health and even our lives by failing to follow best practices can —and should — be held accountable for their mistakes. What follows are some of the most effective, least-expensive techniques for improving patient safety and decreasing medical errors.
Improve transparency ¾ Right now, patients cannot easily find out which hospitals have the worst infection and complication rates. Hospitals should be required to publish data about their infection rates, post-surgery complication rates and mortality rates. To prevent hospitals and surgeons from refusing to take on complicated or risky cases, risk factors that complicate surgeries like obesity or heart disease can be weighed against mortality and complication rates.
Improve teamwork ¾ Hospitals where all employees feel empowered to point out potential errors and to enforce good practice guidelines are safe hospitals. Hospital administrators should work to ensure that everyone who works with patients feels like their observations and input matter, and they will not face any sort of reprisal for pointing out potential errors.
Use cameras ¾ Strategic use of video monitoring and recordings can help encourage doctors to abide by well-established best practices. For example, video recordings that are or may be subject to review have been shown to improve everything from hand-washing rates to careful, thorough colonoscopies.
Open notes ¾ Dictating appointment notes in front of patients or asking patients to review that part of their medical records can ensure that records accurately reflect dosages and medical histories, preventing future errors.
Dr. Michael M. Wilson is an attorney and a physician who earned his undergraduate degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and his legal and medical degrees from Georgetown University. He has focused in the area of medical malpractice for more than three decades and secured more than $100 million in settlements and verdicts on behalf of clients throughout the country. He is admitted to practice in the District of Columbia and New York as well as the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia and the U.S. Supreme Court. He is listed in America’s Top 100 High Stakes Litigators.