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Patient safety in America is in bad shape

A 2017 study found that medical malpractice is the third leading cause of death, accounting for some 250,000 avoidable deaths each year.

As a former hospital administrator, knowing that medical malpractice is the third leading cause of death still surprises me. After all, hospital, medical, and nursing leaders spend a significant amount of time analyzing ways to improve processes and patient safety. The data suggest, though, that these efforts consistently come up short.

I think a lot of this has to do with noise.

Physicians and healthcare providers are expected to see more patients in less time than ever before. I believe many of them are unwittingly pushed into auto-pilot mode, clicking pre-programmed buttons and boxes in electronic medical record systems, rather than engaging in the tough thinking and analysis that is required for quality medical and nursing care. In an article I wrote, I mentioned how hospitals are responsible for poor communication of critical values by their labs, for example.

What are the common mistakes in hospital care?

Two things that endanger patient safety:

• Doctors and nurses are only able to safely care for so many patients at a time. When hospitals don’t provide appropriate staffing levels, patient care suffers. Over time, caregivers burn out, which presents a chronic patient safety risk. In fact, private equity firms are buying up emergency medicine practice groups, making changes that may surprise you. Can hospitals run ERs without emergency physicians?

• Hospital committees can draft great policies and procedures, but they’re not worth the paper they’re written on when clinical leaders don't regularly assess competency and provide training. Continuing education and demonstration of skills promote competency and patient safety.

What can patients do to protect themselves while in the hospital?

• Ask questions. If your doctor actually a doctor? Inquire about your physician or provider’s education, training, and experience. Discuss the diagnosis process, including any working diagnosis and treatment options. In fact, a U.S. Attorney indicted  several people for selling fake academic credential. Is your doctor really a doctor? Is your nurse really a nurse?

• Bring your list of medications to the hospital and any physician appointments. Medication errors are a common problem and an accurate medication goes a long way toward avoiding them.

• Bring someone with you. Everyone needs an advocate some time. In a hospital setting, I think it’s a good idea to have a family member or trusted friend with you 24/7.

Has anything improved in patient safety?

Research published in 2022 shows a glimmer of hope, though. Hospitals are generally doing better in treating heart attacks, heart failure, pneumonia, and handling major surgeries. Researchers also found lower rates of medication errors and development of hospital-acquired infections.

I believe that part of the success is because federal programs hold hospitals financially accountable for meeting benchmarks in these areas. The federal Medicare program is a major payer for healthcare in the United States. Each year, Medicare analyzes outcomes in several areas hospitals nationwide. The lowest performing hospitals are penalized for the next fiscal year.

While it’s true that hospitals have lots of noise and distractions, it’s undeniable that money gets the attention of hospital leaders. When hospital profits are at risk, there’s a big incentive to meet the standards. Recently, a Texas hospital hit with $40M+ verdict for allowing physician with license on probation to work at hospital.

Holding hospitals accountable

One of those common things we hear from potential clients here at Painter Law Firm is that they don’t want other patients and families to go through the same thing. The civil justice system can hold negligent hospitals and healthcare providers accountable.

If you’ve been seriously injured because of poor hospital, medical, or health care in Texas, then contact a top-rated, experienced Texas medical malpractice attorney for a free strategy session about your potential case.

Robert Painter is an award-winning medical malpractice attorney at Painter Law Firm PLLC, in Houston, Texas. He is a former hospital administrator who represents patients and family members in medical negligence and wrongful death lawsuits all over Texas. Contact him by calling 281-580-8800 or emailing him right now.

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