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50+: Live Better, Longer

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Hospital Errors May Be More Common Than Thought

New Tracking Tool Suggests Medical Errors May Occur in One-Third of Hospital Admissions

Second Opinion

Patient safety expert Peter Pronovost, MD, professor of anesthesiology and critical care medicine at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore, says that the new tracking tool is far from fail-safe.

For example, “it is considered a bad outcome if I gave you Benadryl because you are itchy and most pain medications cause you to itch,” he says. There was also no standardized definition for infections used with the new tracking tool.

“Not to say that safety is not a problem, but this tool is not a good measure of the problem,” he says

There are some ways to protect yourself and your loved ones when in the hospital, Pronovost says. “Ask about the hospital’s bloodstream infection rate. It should be 1% or lower.”

Also ask (and observe) whether staff members wash their hands when they enter your room, he says.

“Practice makes perfect,” he says. “If your doctor doesn’t do a lot of the surgery you need, then go to another place if possible.”

Also paying close attention to your discharge instructions can also make a difference in your risk of complications. Know what to look out for and what medications you can or can’t take and how to take them, he says.

“I wouldn’t say this new data is scary for patients but it is another call to action to raise awareness about this issue,” saysDiane C. Pinakiewicz, president of the National Patient Safety Foundation in Boston.

“The findings are sobering, but equally sobering was the path that we were on before we had tools like this,” she says. “Now that we really understand the problem, we can focus on improvement efforts.”

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