When it comes to patient harm, even an ounce of prevention is invaluable

All of us tend to think of hospitals as the place we go to get better, not sustain additional illnesses or injury. In recent years, estimates have ranged as high as 440,00 people per year that have been harmed while receiving care in hospitals. These injuries and deaths are due to a wide variety of causes, such as infections, drug reactions, medication errors,and bedsores, to name only a few examples.

There are more than 35 million hospital admissions each year and more than four times that number in emergency room visits. If just 1% of hospital admissions resulted in harm to a patient, the number of patients harmed could amount to more than 350,000.

The truth is, when it comes to patient safety, the only acceptable error rate is zero. Medical professionals have numerous responsibilities that directly affect patients, so even a small error rate can translate into many people harmed.

The sad fact is that it is that much of the harm to patients can prevented. What could or should the medical profession be doing differently?

Health care providers should be committed to following evidence-informed practices.

A number of hospitals and health centers have made significant strides toward improving safety by implementing systems with checklist safeguards, and standardizing proven protocols for procedures. This kind of system works well in situations where stakes are high, and risk factors numerous. Aerospace is one example. Employing these kinds of systems effectively adds layers of protection that can and does save lives.

Over the last decade, big data has revolutionized practically every industry with vast repositories of information and predictive analytics that can draw correlations to reveal probable outcomes. Health care is no different. Extensive data exists in regard to countless conditions, procedures, and outcomes. It is already used to predict epidemics, cure disease, improve quality of life and avoid preventable deaths. Medical practitioners should strive to benefit from every advantage modern technology can provide.

The key point to remember with both of these methods for reducing preventable death, is that they rely heavily on the ability of medical professionals to change the way they are working—a change that must take place amidst typically high levels of stress, high volume and overwhelming demands.

No one is perfect. Doctors and other medical professionals are only human. Yet we depend upon them for our very lives. It is for precisely these reasons that they should employ proven practices with layers of safeguards that reduce the possibility of errors and preventable harm. After all, lives are depending upon it.

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