Medical Errors: an issue that’s Yours, Mine, and Ours

Sarah Arnquist at The Health Care Blog and Rong-Gong Lin of the Los Angeles Times report from the Association of Health Care Journalists (which I hope bucks the trend of declining membership).

The big news: Actor Dennis Quaid is considering suing Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, which gave their twin newborn babies a massive overdose (1,000 times the prescribed dose) that almost caused their death.

The bigger news: The experience has made Quaid an activist against medical errors. He’s set up a organization, The Quaid Foundation, dedicated to patient safety. He’s urging Cedars-Sinai and hospitals across the country to implement a bar code system that would ensure that the right drug and dose are provided to patients. It’s a worthy cause to highlight: the Insitute of Medicine suggests that there are between 44,000 to 98,000 preventative deaths each year because of medical errors–not to mention the significant costs that could be saved.

There’s a lot of policy efforts on the subject. There is Consumers Union’s work on hospital infections. There’s health reform efforts at transparency of cost and quality data, both last year with AB x1 1, and this year, with bills like AB2967(Lieber).

And there’s the question of enforcement. Julie Sevrens Lyons at the San Jose Mercury News reported that some of the first fines allowed under a new law were levied against Cedars-Sinai and 10 other hospitals, for severe–and even lethal–mistakes like the Quaid case. The fine, however, was a mere $25,000–which is the billed charged of only a day or two at a hospital.

Quaid says that Cedars-Sinai at least decided not to send a bill. And some hospitals are adopting the policy of not charging insurers or patients for “never events”–the severe mistakes that lead to injury or worse. So the financial incentives are starting to turn. But the key is to prevent the medical errors in the first place.

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