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Despite Efforts, Study Finds No Decline in Medical Errors
Date:11/24/2010

By Maureen Salamon
HealthDay Reporter

WEDNESDAY, Nov. 24 (HealthDay News) -- Despite intensive efforts to improve patient safety, a six-year study at 10 North Carolina hospitals showed no decline in so-called patient "harms," which included medical errors and unavoidable mistakes.

Sorting through patients' medical records from more than 2,300 randomly selected hospital admissions, teams of reviewers found 588 instances of patient harm, which included events such as hospital-acquired infections, surgical errors and medication dosage mistakes.

While most harms were minor and temporary, 50 were life-threatening, 17 resulted in permanent problems and 14 people died, said the researchers, who selected North Carolina hospitals because the state has shown a strong commitment to patient safety. The admissions records spanned the period from January 2002 to December 2007.

Study author Dr. Christopher Landrigan said the results likely reflect what's happening nationwide. A 1999 Institute of Medicine report publicizing high medical error rates spurred many U.S. hospitals to implement safety-promoting changes, but no uniform set of guidelines exists to direct facilities which changes to tackle, he said.

"What has been done right is that regulatory agencies have begun prioritizing patient safety," said Landrigan, an assistant professor of pediatrics and medicine at Harvard Medical School. "But these efforts have largely been a patchwork of unconnected efforts and so far have not been as strong as they can be."

Slightly more than half of the errors were avoidable, Landrigan said. They were detected by investigators who scanned patients' charts for "trigger" events that suggested mistakes had occurred, such as a prescription for an anti-opioid drug that could remedy a morphine overdose.

The study, published in the Nov. 25 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine, is important because health-care p
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