Why You Need a Patient Safety Reality Check

Most doctors are well aware of the safety hazards facing patients receiving care in the hospital setting, and for good reason – the statistics are rather grim.

A landmark study from the Institutes of Medicine found that between 44,000 and 98,000 Americans die in U.S. hospitals every year due to preventable medical errors. The Agency for Health Research and Quality (AHRQ) also found that 99,000 U.S. patients die annually as a result of hospital-acquired infections.

But less attention is paid to the issue of patient safety in the doctor’s office and clinical settings, where the risk of adverse medical event or injury is almost just as great.

Seeking to bring light to the issue, researchers from the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) assessed medical malpractice claims data to determine the prevalence of error in outpatient versus hospital settings. In 2009 alone, about half of malpractice payments made were for adverse outcomes resulting from errors at the doctor’s office.

That means patient safety is as important a concern for the physicians and staff at your practice as it is for any hospitalist clinician, and it’s time for a ‘reality check’ at your practice. How safe are your patients from infection, misdiagnoses, medication errors, and other medical mistakes?

Avoiding malpractice claims and keeping your patients happy and healthy requires you to make patient safety an ongoing priority.

Review your approach to infection prevention and make sure it aligns with the suggestions from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which points out that now that more than three-quarters of all operations in the U.S. are performed on an outpatient basis, patients are more vulnerable to infections resulting from surgery.

The JAMA researchers found that adverse outcomes in the medical practice setting are most often related to errors in diagnosis. Earn your CME credits by taking online coursework about reducing diagnostic errors, such as this resource from the National Patient Safety Foundation, to keep misdiagnoses at bay.

Preventing medication errors requires a lot of diligence, as the FDA issues clinically relevant changes to existing prescription labels to over 25 percent of drugs yearly. That doesn’t even take into account the emergence of new medications into the market that can potentially incite drug-drug interactions. Stay current on label updates by using tools like this one from the Doctors Company and the Physicians Desk Reference.

And lastly, for your patients’ sake – get tech. EMR and EHR systems have safeguards in place to guard against drug-drug interactions and misdiagnoses. ePrescribing can reduce medication errors and increase patient medication compliance. Engaging in health information exchange can make it easier to coordinate care with other providers and reduce the reordering of tests.

“The problems associated with outpatient safety may not be easy to fix, but the adoption of electronic health records is already improving communication between doctors,” said Dr. Tara Bishop, lead author of the JAMA study, in comments to Science Daily.

“Patient safety is likely to improve markedly as more and more doctors’ offices change the way their records are kept, updated and accessed.”

A tech-enabled safety reality check? That’s an improvement we can get behind.

How do you ensure patient safety at your practice?

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