Healthcare News & Insights

No excuses: 5 keys to reducing medical errors in hospitals

Many medical errors are preventable. But hospitals continue to have trouble with keeping them from harming patients. To make real progress toward reducing errors and never events, facilities must be committed to making significant changes. 

92283630Thousands of patients die as a result of medical errors. A recent study in BMJ estimates that the deaths of over 250,000 patients were directly caused by a preventable error that affected their care.

According to an article in Health Affairs, the problem with medical errors lies with complacency. Hospitals accept that errors are inevitable, which means their prevention efforts aren’t as robust as they could be.

The piece states that, rather than “making excuses” about why error rates are as high as they are, hospitals need to take definitive action to stop them.

Per the article, here are five strategies hospitals and their leaders can use to make a big difference with reducing medical errors and never events:

  1. Make a commitment to lowering errors in a short time frame. Hospital executives, board members and supervisors should commit to making real progress to reduce the rates of medical errors over the course of a year. Particularly, they need to focus on the leading causes of complications and death for hospitalized patients, including surgical site infections, adverse drug events, central-line associated bloodstream infections and ventilator-associated pneumonia. Whether leaders create prevention initiatives on their own, or through partnerships with payors or other facilities, they must demonstrate a lasting commitment to any changes.
  2. Recognize and reward improvement efforts. Medicare and other payors are getting on the bandwagon with offering hospitals financial incentives for boosting care quality and reducing errors through value-based payment arrangements. But individual hospitals must offer rewards and recognition to their own staff for any signs of improvement, as well. This shows staff that their efforts are important and appreciated.
  3. Improve ongoing education and training for clinical staff. The only way changes to care delivery will be effective in reducing errors is if the staff on the front lines are consistent in applying them to patients’ treatment. Clinical staff must be open to learning new techniques to care for patients, and regular training sessions and reminders are essential for getting new habits to stick.
  4. Track and act on data. Hospitals need to be more proactive about tracking medical error rates and evaluating the numbers. There also needs to be more transparency about the number of errors that occur, as well as the steps that’ll be taken to avoid them in the future. That’s the only way leaders can see the full scope of the problem and get errors under control. Moving toward transparency can also help patients make better decisions about their care and be more informed about any steps they can take to help clinicians avoid errors (e.g., bring a list of their medications).
  5. Learn from past successes and failures. If an error does occur in your facility, the best approach is to treat it as a learning opportunity. Instead of rushing to punish all involved, find out what happened and what could’ve prevented the problem. Then, take concrete action steps to fix it, shoring up any weaknesses in the process. Outside of your hospital, many other facilities have achieved success with various strategies. Looking at how they reduced rates of infections, pressure ulcers and other adverse events can help your facility refine its prevention efforts to include evidence-based best practices and other safety protocols that improve quality of care.

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