Skip to content
    Font Size

    Backstage at the Medical Revolution

    Behind-the-scenes technologies are transforming medicine -- but who's gonna pay?

    Digital Imagery continued...

    Big deal, you say? It is if you're the one trying to clutch an envelope full of X-rays while maneuvering hospital corridors balanced on crutches.

    Not too long ago, only Superman had X-ray vision, but now every Dr. Tom, Dr. Dick, or Dr. Harriet with a computer terminal, the right software, and security authorization can peer into the inner workings of his or her patients to see whether the hip bone's connected to the thigh bone.

    It's the flashy stuff in medicine -- the latest miracle surgery or wonder drug -- that gets all the rave notices these days, but what goes on behind the scenes is also making subtle but important changes in how doctors practice medicine and how patients and physicians communicate.

    Barring Drug Errors

    Everybody makes mistakes, but when mistakes come in the form of the wrong drug or the wrong dose, they can be very costly indeed. In 1994, a mistake in the dosing of a chemotherapy drug for treatment of breast cancer cost Boston Globe health reporter Betsy Lehman her life.

    According to a 1999 report from the Institute of Medicine, an independent organization associated with the National Academy of Science, medication errors account for more than 7,000 deaths in the United States each year; another study estimates that "adverse drug reactions" (such as breathing failure caused by narcotics or anesthesia drugs) cause more than 100,000 patient deaths annually.

    The Institute of Medicine report, titled "To Err is Human: Building a Safer Health System" says that in most cases medical errors aren't the fault of a single person or group, but instead are caused by system failures.

    "[T]his is not a 'bad apple' problem," the IOM report says. "More commonly, errors are caused by faulty systems, processes, and conditions that lead people to make mistakes or fail to prevent them. For example, stocking patient-care units in hospitals with certain full-strength drugs, even though they are toxic unless diluted, has resulted in deadly mistakes."

    To reduce the chance of fatal or harmful drug errors, the FDA in March 2003 proposed widespread adoption of a barcode scanning system for use with all prescription drugs and select over-the-counter medications as well.

    Hot Topics

    WebMD Video: Now Playing

    Click here to wach video: Dirty Truth About Hand Washing

    Which sex is the worst about washing up? Why is it so important? We’ve got the dirty truth on how and when to wash your hands.

    Click here to watch video: Dirty Truth About Hand Washing

    Popular Slideshows & Tools on WebMD

    disciplining a boy
    Types, symptoms, causes.
    fruit drinks
    Eat these to think better.
    embarrassed woman
    Do you feel guilty after eating?
    diabetes supply kit
    Pack and prepare.
    Balding man in mirror
    Treatments & solutions.
    birth control pills
    Which kind is right for you?
    Remember your finger
    Are you getting more forgetful?
    sticky notes on face
    10 tips to clear your brain fog.
    Close up of eye
    12 reasons you're distracted.
    Trainer demonstrating exercise for RA
    Exercises for your joints.
    apple slices with peanut butter
    What goes best with workouts?
    Pink badge on woman chest to support breat cancer
    Myths and facts.

    Pollen counts, treatment tips, and more.

    It's nothing to sneeze at.

    Loading ...

    Sending your email...

    This feature is temporarily unavailable. Please try again later.


    Now check your email account on your mobile phone to download your new app.

    Women's Health Newsletter

    Find out what women really need.