July 20, 2012
Hospitals are ignoring state regulations that require them to report cases in which medical care harmed a patient, making it almost impossible for healthcare providers to identify and fix preventable problems. That’s according to a report released Friday by the Department of Health and Human Services inspector general.
Hospitals may avoid blame for errors when they don’t report preventable problems, but they lose the chance to track issues, such as new infections making their way through hospitals. Forty-four percent of the cases tracked by inspectors involved preventable healthcare problems, the report said.
Researchers say the hospitals’ failure to report problems isn’t a sign of a cover-up, but rather the staffs’ ignorance of the regulations and what they need to report. Providers “see it as the normal risk of doing business,” said Lee Adler, the report’s lead physician researcher and a senior adviser for Adventist Health.
Healthcare providers, Adler says, see some problems as natural risks associated with certain medical procedures. For example, almost anyone who receives a catheter has an associated infection, he says.
Past reports show that about 27% of Medicare patients are harmed as a result of medical care. Those errors cost Medicare $324 million for one month. Hope for the future lies in electronic health records, Adler said, because “we may be able to prevent events, we may be able to ameliorate events, and (electronic records) may become your surveillance system.”
Incentives included in the 2010 healthcare law to encourage more hospitals to use electronic records may change how errors are tracked and addressed, say researchers of the inspector general’s study.
The healthcare system is “right on the cusp” of identifying “safety issues just as they happen,” said David Classen, a University of Utah associate professor of medicine and infectious disease. Such software, he said, would catch “triggers” for potential errors, such as a patient who received an antidote after a medication overdose.
Use of the antidote, Classen says, would trigger an alert to a hospital quality control officer, who would then make sure the patient was receiving proper care and record the problem.
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