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Big Business Moves to Cut Medical Errors in Hospitals

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WebMD Health News

Nov. 15, 2000 (Washington) -- The crusade to reduce preventable medical errors has been taken up by big business. More than 60 large companies and other purchasers that provide health coverage for more than 20 million Americans announced an ambitious campaign to encourage hospitals to take steps to reduce their medical errors.

The purchasers, who call themselves the "Leapfrog Group," include corporate giants IBM, Xerox, and GM. Since the group accounts for more than $40 billion in annual health spending, they want to improve care for their employees by rewarding hospitals that take specific steps to create a safer health care system. The Leapfrog Group firms are members of the Business Roundtable, a Washington consortium of Fortune 500 companies.

In a landmark report released late in 1998, the Institute of Medicine estimated that as many as 98,000 Americans die each year from preventable medical errors. Congress subsequently held hearings on the problem, and legislation was proposed, but nothing has gone anywhere. Hospitals and doctors have vigorously protested measures that would have required mandatory reporting of their medical mistakes.

In its recommendations, the Leapfrog Group advises hospitals to require physicians to order medication through computers linked to software designed to prevent prescribing errors. The group also suggests referring patients needing complex medical procedures to medical institutions that have higher-quality outcomes from doing large volumes of those services and requiring that intensive care units (ICUs) be staffed by physicians with credentials in emergency medicine.

Though the prescription software is costly, it may prevent overdoses, eliminate errors from doctors' illegible handwriting, and block doctors from prescribing a medication the patient is allergic to or one that might adversely interact with another drug.

Lewis Campbell, CEO of Textron, a Leapfrog member, said, "We feel confident in our ability to make a difference by harnessing and leveraging our health care purchasing power. It's a straightforward business approach to tackling a complex problem."

The Leapfrog initiative would not punish hospitals that failed to meet the standards, but would highlight those institutions that did meet them and encourage consumers to choose them for their health care.

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