MEDICAL MISTAKES: Clinton Proposal Is Laudable
The Clinton Administration's proposal to reduce medical mistakes is "laudable, and hospitals certainly can learn from other industries" about how to reduce human error, editors at the San Jose Mercury News write today. According to a report released last year by the Institute of Medicine, 98,000 Americans die each year from medical mistakes, making medical errors the eighth leading cause of death in the United States. The airline and banking industries, the editors maintain, "set their sights years ago on creating systems in which human error would be reduced to near zero, with whatever means worked best." They did so because they knew people get "tired, harried, distracted or overwhelmed," the editors say. Planes do not "fall out of the sky every day" and "[t]ens of thousands of checks are not deducted daily from the wrong [bank] accounts," the editors assert, but "every day, thousands of errors in hospitals and clinics lead to injury or death for patients." As a result, the White House has proposed a federal Center for Patient Safety, and a two-tier system of "mandatory reporting of serious errors, and voluntary reporting of less serious errors to show flaws in the system." The editors write, "[Clinton] would make the reports confidential, recognizing that a commitment to open discussion must replace the current culture of secrecy in medicine." The effort aims to cut preventable medical errors in half over the next five years. Evidence in the health care industry and other industries "show this goal is attainable." The editors concede that health care is a "complex field" and that reducing errors will be a challenge, but they ask, " ... in what activity could eliminating errors be more important than in medicine?" The editorial concludes, "We applaud President Clinton for moving quickly to make improvements in a way that will repair the system and prevent errors, rather than waiting for them to happen and then letting the courts decide who will pay for the grief" (3/7).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.