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Last updated on April 16, 2014 at 11:49 EDT

Hospital Safety Not Improving, Study Claims

November 25, 2010

A new study, published Thursday in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM), says that efforts to make American hospitals safer over the past decade have fallen short.

A team of researchers, led by Christopher Landrigan of Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital, studied a reported 2,300 patient admissions records from 10 North Carolina hospitals selected at random. They discovered that in 588 cases, patients were somehow harmed as a result of medical procedures, medications, or other related causes.

“Of 588 harms that were identified, 245 (41.7%) were temporary harms requiring intervention”¦ and 251 (42.7%) were temporary harms requiring initial or prolonged hospitalization,” Landrigan and his colleagues wrote. “An additional 17 harms (2.9%) were permanent, 50 (8.5%) were life-threatening, and 14 (2.4%) caused or contributed to a patient’s death.”

Furthermore, they reported that 63 percent of the incidents were avoidable.

“These harms are still very common, and there’s no evidence that they’re improving,” Landrigan told Reuters on Wednesday. “The problem is that the methods that have been best proven to improve care have not been implemented across the nation.”

The methods to which Landrigan was referring include computerizing patient information and prescription records, limiting the number of consecutive hours that nurses spend on the job, and implementing checklists for surgical operations and other medical procedures, according to Reuters.

The study discovered that the most common incidents involved procedural error (186 cases), medication-related problems (162 cases), and hospital-acquired nosocomial infections (87 cases). Other causes included flawed diagnostic evaluations and even falls.

The results of the study show that “harm resulting from medical care was common” and that there is “little evidence that the rate of harm had decreased substantially” from 2001 to 2007, the researchers said in their report. They added that their findings “validate concern raised by patient-safety experts in the United States and Europe that harm resulting from medical care remains very common.”

Landrigan and his colleagues said that the results were “disappointing” but “not entirely surprising”¦ Despite substantial resource allocation and efforts to draw attention to the patient-safety epidemic on the part of government agencies, health care regulators, and private organizations, the penetration of evidence-based safety practices has been quite modest.”

While the report did focus on solely on health care facilities in the North Carolina area, Landrigan told Denise Grady of the New York Times on Wednesday that it was “unlikely that other regions of the country have fared better.”

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