Hospital Quality Can Be a Matter of Life and Death

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A new survey on hospital safety has found that patients’ are markedly better in top-rated hospitals versus lower-ranked ones, according to Consumer Reports.

Dr. John James recently reported in the Journal of Patient Safety that medical errors claim the lives of more than 440,000 people each year. Based on this conservative number, medical mistakes are one of the top three causes of death in the United States.  Many other patients suffer serious but non-fatal injuries.

Consumer Reports analyzed the data and ranked more than 2,500 U.S. hospitals in all 50 states and Washington, D.C. using federal data in five categories:

  • Deaths within 30 days of admission in patients with heart failure, or pneumonia, or within 30 days of surgery
  • Hospital readmissions within 30 days of discharge
  • Use of multiple CT scans
  • Incidence of hospital-acquired infections involving urinary catheters and central IV lines in ICU’s
  • Effective communication to patients about prescribed medications and discharge plans

Results showed patients in the highest-rated hospitals were 34 percent less likely to die than similar patients in low-rated facilities. Only 35 hospitals got top ratings for making sure that patients admitted for a heart attack, heart failure or pneumonia did not die within 30 days of admission.

For surgery patients with serious but treatable complications – such as blood clots in the legs – high scoring hospitals were very important. For every 1,000 patients treated for a complication, only 87 died in top-scoring hospitals compared to more than 132 in the lower-ranked ones.

Medical Errors and the Law

Patients are entitled to trust that their doctor or health care worker will meet the standard of care when they provide services. There are many different types of medical errors, such as:

  • Wrong-site surgery
  • Wrong patient surgery
  • Pharmacy errors
  • Surgical mistakes, such as leaving gauze or a surgical tool in the body
  • Missed diagnosis
  • Wrong diagnosis
  • Delayed diagnosis
  • Medical device errors
  • Birth injuries
  • Errors in reading x-rays, ultrasounds and other test results
  • Anesthesia errors
  • Failure to take a proper medical history
  • Nursing errors
  • Lack of communication between the patients and physicians regarding treatments
  • Delayed response

Medical Malpractice in Georgia

Patients who are injured due to failure to provide services which meet the standard of care may be entitled to compensation under a state’s medical malpractice laws. In Georgia, victims of medical malpractice have two years from the date of the malpractice to file a claim in court.  Because Georgia counts from the date of the negligent act or omission, it’s important to contact an experienced medical malpractice attorney who can examine the facts of your case in more detail early on.

What You Can Do

The data shows that medical mistakes are all too frequent. There are some preventative things that you can do to protect yourself and your loved ones:

  • Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Keep asking until you are satisfied that you have gathered all of the information you need to make an informed decision. Consider having a friend or family member come with you to your appointment who can listen and possibly think of questions you didn’t anticipate.
  • Be assertive and be your own advocate.   If you cannot do that for yourself, have an informed family member or friend ready to step into that role for you.  Make sure you understand your treatment plan and any medications you are given.  If there are new medications which are unexpected or unfamiliar, make sure you find out what they are and they are being given to you.
  • Ask about any common complications and make sure you understand what symptoms to report and when you should report them if you have concerns.

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