Reduction in Medical Errors at Veterans’ Hospitals


A patient can have a difficult time coping with the knowledge that his or her doctor made a mistake, and rightly so. Doctors are supposed to help their patients, not potentially harm them as the result of negligence, medical errors or medical malpractice.

Unfortunately, medical errors are not at all uncommon in America’s health care system. Surgical errors, considered highly preventable, still occur roughly once in every 75,000 surgeries. Considering how many surgeries take place in the United States each day, many patients are being harmed.

On the bright side, some health care systems have been successfully tackling the problem of medical errors. According to a recent study, the Veterans Health Administration (VHA), the nation’s largest integrated health care organization, has made a number of improvements which have contributed to a decrease in medical errors.

Between 2006 and 2009 medical errors at the VHA declined from 3.2 each month to 2.4. Close calls increased from 2 per month to 3.2. An increase in close calls, accompanied by a decrease in actual errors, may be a positive indication of increased awareness and reporting by medical professionals.

Overall, during the four year time frame, there were 101 actual errors and 136 close calls. The most frequent medical errors were wrong-patient and wrong-side procedures.

In order to decrease medical errors the VHA focused on checklists and creating a team focused approach to health care, stressing cooperation, communication and speaking up about possible mistakes.

Although the success of the VHA in decreasing medical errors is a step in the right direction, even one mistake is too many when patients’ lives are at stake. Hopefully ongoing awareness and prevention efforts will continue to improve health care at the VHA and around the country.

Source: Medical errors down at U.S. veterans’ hospitals

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