New study suggests certain hospital mistakes can be avoided

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A new study published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine documents a 10 percent increase in fatalities at teaching hospitals during the month of July.  The study’s lead author, David Phillips, PhD., speculated that the explanation for the “July effect” may be that July is the month when new doctors start their residencies, causing an uptick in medical malpractice. The study found that the fatalities typically resulted from mistakes in prescribing and administering medications.

According to a 2008 study involving Medicare patients, one out of seven hospital patients suffered at least one “unintended harm” that lengthened the hospital stay, resulted in permanent injury, necessitated life-sustaining treatment, or ended in death.

According to Peter Pronovost, MD, PhD and author of “Safe Patients, Smart Hospitals” there are several things individuals can do to lessen the chance of hospital injuries.

Hospital acquired infections kill 31,000 people each year.  According to Dr. Pronovost, most infections can be easily prevented.  Dr. Pronovost recommends that patients inquire as to a hospital’s infection rates–measured by “catheter days” meaning every 24 hours that a tube is inserted into a patient’s blood vessels–before admission.  “The best hospitals’ rates have been zero in one thousand catheter days for a year or more. If it’s risen above three, I’d be worried,” he said.

Dr. Lawrence Chao, suggests that patients demand that medical providers wash their hands before touching the patient in any way.  Lisa McGiffert, director of Consumer Union’s Safe Patient Project, says that patients should request that frequently touched areas be disinfected during their stay as “everything in the room could potentially spread infection.”

In a 2004 study, 20 out of 40 doctors’ neckties were found to be contaminated with dangerous pathogens.  Another study by Emory University found staph bacteria on 17 out of 84 stethoscopes.  That study recommended that patients ask doctors to tuck ties or dangling necklaces into their coats and disinfect pens or medical instruments before use.

One in 100 hospital patients dies from blood clots in the vein.  Dr. Frederick Anderson, Jr. authored an article on the subject in the American Journal of Medicine.  Dr. Anderson found that half of those who die of a blood clot could have been saved by implementing simple preventative measures such as screening, heparin therapy, and compression stocking.

Other recommendations include avoiding surgeries on weekends, nights, and holidays, bringing bottles of prescribed medications to the hospital, confirming that the physician is board certified in their speciality, and avoiding falls by calling for help when walking.

For more information on hospital mistakes and errors, contact the Ohio medical malpractice lawyers at Clark, Perdue & List.

Source: MSNBC, “14 worst hospital mistakes to avoid,” June 25, 2012.