Commentary

Medical Errors: A cause of death that needs more attention | Opinion

March 14, 2021 6:30 am

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By Paul Lagnese

One of the leading causes of death every year is preventable medical errors.  In 2020, the untimely and unnecessary death of patients because of these errors was outpaced by only heart disease, cancer, and COVID-19. In the years before the COVID-19 pandemic, medical errors were the third leading cause of death in America.

Cancer and heart disease receive considerable attention and research funding.  COVID-19 has undoubtedly altered our landscape and captured the world’s attention. Such dangers to our health require substantial commitment and resources to prevent or remove those threats.  Of all these threats to our lives, only medical errors are caused by humans, and thus human action is required to eliminate this scourge.

The concepts of improvement and prevention, especially against the leading causes of death, are a focus of Patient Safety Awareness Week which is March 14-20.

The recognition of this week is vital in educating the public, calling on health care providers to improve procedures, and persuading policymakers to make sure the best standards and accountability are enacted to address medical errors.

As health care consumers, the more we know about the healthcare we are actually receiving or being offered, the better position we will be in to avoid being a victim of preventable medical error. It is okay to ask questions about your medical care.

It is okay to ask to see your medical chart, and it is okay to ask for help understanding its contents. You should ask your doctor about the care and/or medication that is being prescribed and if there are any known side-effects or alternative treatments not being discussed. Lastly, ensure that all medical personnel treating you wash their hands before administering care. Infections and the transmission of disease, if preventive protocols are overlooked, can lead to serious health outcomes.

Hospitals, nursing homes, and other care-providing-facilities also have an enormous obligation in keeping us and our loved ones safe. They must recruit and hire the best staffs. They must also provide ongoing training and always have an adequate level of staffing available.

They must implement stringent safety standards and make sure their employees always follow them.  Additionally, most experts in patient safety agree: preventing medical error is often as simple as formulating, adopting, and using something called “Best Practices”.  “Best Practices” are those health care procedures and protocols with a proven track record of preventing unintended medical errors.  Unfortunately, many hospitals and physician practices in Pennsylvania continue to resist the adoption and usage of published and proven “Best Practices”.

Finally, accountability should be of the highest priority to policymakers when it comes to reducing preventable deaths in a healthcare setting.

We all have a right to expect care that is free from errors. Health care systems must enforce accountability from within, and where that fails patients our elected officials must ensure that Pennsylvanians have the right to pursue their rights and remedies against such failures.

Please join us in recognizing Patient Safety Awareness Week. Tell a friend, share this article, and look out for your loved ones. Only through our collective efforts can we save lives by eliminating preventable medical errors.

Paul Lagnese is the president of the Pennsylvania Association for Justice, which represents the state’s trial bar. 

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