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Doctor errors: Is enough being done to avoid them?

Greenville residents may have heard of a new system of reporting medical errors implemented at a large clinic in North Carolina. This new procedure for flagging medical errors has resulted in a significant jump in the number of reported doctor errors as well as other mistakes. The system is anonymous and emphasizes a lack of punishment for doctor negligence.

After the new "blame-free" system was implemented at a pediatric clinic in North Carolina, the number of mistakes increased from five to 86 per year on average. According to the lead author of the study, the jump in numbers is not an indication that their medical practice is unsafe. He says it is instead indicative of the clinic's commitment to addressing the flaws in their system. The intention is to use the information to help create a better practice at the clinic.

In 1999, the Institute of Medicine published a landmark report. It estimated that nearly 100,000 Americans die every year as a result of doctor and hospital error. Since the release of the report, the health care sector has generally bolstered its efforts to recognize doctor error and improve patient safety.

Employees at the pediatric clinic in North Carolina were trained as part of a "pediatric safety champion team." The team was trained to implement the new reporting system and was comprised of members of every level of the office's staff, from doctors and nurses to the front-desk staff. The point was stressed that all reports of doctor error made by the team would remain anonymous and that no one who made an error would face punishment for their mistake. This is in stark contrast to the former system, in which reports were not anonymous and were punitive. After more than two years of using the new system, results showed 68 cases of errors in entering information on patients' records, 27 cases of lab tests being delayed or neglected and 24 errors regarding medication.

Doctor errors occur in Greenville, elsewhere in North Carolina and around the country every day. While it is good to know that steps are being taken to lessen the incidence of those potentially life-threatening mistakes, the fact remains that mistakes do and probably always will continue to happen. Fortunately, under medical malpractice law there are ways to seek compensation for victims of doctor errors.

Source: The Reuters, "Blame-free system increases medical error reports," Kerry Grens, Nov. 21, 2011

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