medical mistakes

  1. The problem that's seven times worse than reported

    To err is human... but to make a potentially deadly mistake and consider it just another normal day on the job, you'd have to work in a hospital.

    The newest numbers on medical mistakes are in, and they're uglier than ever: The Department of Heath and Human Services says six out of seven errors -- including potentially fatal blunders -- go unreported.

    Now, no one likes to admit to their mistakes... and in the past, doctors and nurses were no exception. They'd often fail to report their mistakes simply to cover their own butts.

    But DHS investigators say today's doctors, nurses and other hospital staffers are a different breed: They'll admit to those mistakes... if they could only figure out what constitutes a mistake!

    Believe or not, many don't realize when a patient has been hurt by botched medical care. And others make or encounter mistakes so often that they don't consider them mistakes anymore.

    It's just another day at the office.

    But recognizing those mistakes is supposed to be a key part of the Medicare process -- with hospitals that hope to cash Medicare checks required to report all patients who are harmed by their care.

    That includes patients hurt or killed by hospital-acquired infections, drug overdoses, wrong medications, bedsores, delirium from too many painkillers and more.

    To find out that doctors and nurses can fail to spot that six times out of seven is just astounding -- and that's not even the biggest problem here. The agency's inspectors also found that even when a mistake is recognized, it almost never leads to changes to prevent it from happening again.

    In the new study, independent doctors reviewed a small sample of patient records and found 293 who were harmed by their medical care -- with only 40 of those incidents reported to hospital management.

    Of those, only 28 -- less than 10 percent of the original total -- were investigated, and just five led to actual changes in either policy or practice.

    But that's just scratching the surface. All told, investigators say 130,000 Medicare patients are harmed by their care every single month -- some of them more than once.

    One recent study even found that 15,000 Medicare patients are killed by those medical mistakes every month.

    The sad reality is that if you're sick or injured, the hospital is turning into the last place you want to be.

  2. Why your doctor needs more sleep

    How sharp would you be after 28 hours without sleep? If your answer is "not very," you're like most people.

    Doctors are like most people, too, once you take away the white coats, stethoscopes, and medical degrees -- but they're routinely scheduled for those infamous 28-hour shifts during their residencies.

    Earlier this month, new rules kicked in that are supposed to limit shifts to 16 hours -- but don't celebrate this as a victory for common sense.

    In reality, it's going to be business as usual at most hospitals.

    Not only are 16-hour shifts ludicrously long on their own, but the new rules only require a five-hour nap at the end of them.

    After that, young docs better stock up on coffee and Red Bull -- because they're back on the clock for yet another double shift.

    Even worse, the rules only apply to first-year residents. In years two and beyond, those 28-hour shifts are still perfectly acceptable.

    So much for change.

    Now, a group of leading doctors and patient safety experts are calling for stricter limits, writing in the journal Nature and Science of Sleep that all residents should be limited to between 12 and 16 hours.

    It's a common-sense approach that acknowledges the reality that some 180,000 patients are killed every year by medical mistakes -- and that many of those errors are committed by sleepy docs.

    At one conference held last year, 26 experts agreed that humans simply can't function with a clear head after 16 straight hours of work. Other studies have found that lack of sleep can have the same effect on skills and judgment as a night of drinking.

    And in other industries where public safety is on the line, there are strict limits in place. Truck drivers, for example, are only allowed to operate for 11 hours after 10 hours of rest.

    Pilots are only allowed to fly for 12 hours in any 24-hour period.

    But docs can keep right on slicing, zapping, diagnosing, and prescribing well beyond the established limits of human endurance.

    And if that's not enough to keep you up at night, consider this: It would cost hospitals about $1.7 billion to hire enough doctors to allow everyone to get the sleep they need.

    With that kind of money on the line, you can see why there's no rush to change the system.

  3. Human error goes digital

    Computers were supposed to change healthcare permanently and forever, and in many ways they have. But when it comes to slashing the number of medical mistakes, we still have a long way to go -- because it turns out computers are just as likely as humans to botch drug prescriptions.
  4. The hospital epidemic you need to worry about

    A new study finds that medical mistakes may be up to 10 times more common than previously thought, affecting up to a third of all patients admitted to hospitals.
  5. Simple approach saves lives

    There's a crisis unfolding right beneath our noses: Americans are being killed by prescription drug errors and other medical mistakes.

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