Cutting out medical mistakes, Health Chief Sebelius tours Detroit hospital

Jun 3, 2011

U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services, Katherine Sebelius toured the Henry Ford Hospital today as part of the government's initiative to reduce patient care mistakes.

According to the Detroit News, Sebelius said:

"We spend way too many dollars on care that was not needed in the first place because we're trying to fix mistakes that shouldn't have happened in the first place," she said during a roundtable discussion.

I remember going into the hospital to have an operation on my left knee awhile back. Nurses put a sleeve over my right leg, and it seemed like a dozen different doctors and nurses asked me which leg was being operated on.

"Don't they know?" I thought.

Then I realized they were going through a system of checks and balances to make sure doctors cut open the correct leg.

If they cut open the wrong leg, it would have been bad, but at least I would have survived.

A 1999 Institute of Medicine study estimated that as many as 98,000 Americans die every year from preventable medical errors, and the government says that number didn't improve much in the following decade.

The Partnership for Patients is the Obama Administration's program aimed at cutting down on medical mistakes. According to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services:

  • At any given time, about one in every 20 patients has an infection related to their hospital care.
  • On average, one in seven Medicare beneficiaries is harmed in the course of their care, costing the government an estimated $4.4 billion every year.
  • Nearly one in five Medicare patients discharged from the hospital is readmitted within 30 days – that’s approximately 2.6 million seniors at a cost of over $26 billion every year.

Two goals are listed on the Partnership for Patients website:

  1. By the end of 2013, preventable hospital-acquired conditions would decrease by 40% compared to 2010.
  2. By the end of 2013, preventable complications during a transition from one care setting to another would be decreased so that all hospital readmissions would be reduced by 20% compared to 2010.

Sebelius was touring the Henry Ford Hospital to highlight new procedures the hospital has put in place to cut down on mistakes.

From the Detroit Free Press:

There, officials highlighted several changes that have led to a reduction in patient problems. For example, a reduced reliance on central lines for surgery patients – lines that are inserted into major veins to deliver drugs – along with better training and equipment have nearly eliminated infections from those lines, said Dr. Peter Watson.

Just as critical to improving care is feedback from patients and their caregivers, officials said.

Some of the measures may be common sense and good practice, but many hospitals haven’t implemented them, in part, because it takes strong leadership to enforce a top-to-bottom focus on safety, Henry Ford officials said.

 

Sebelius said one component missing in correcting medical mistakes is "a willingness to be transparent... to admit mistakes."

The Obama Administration says it will achieve its goals by "using as much as $1 billion in new funding provided by the Affordable Care Act and leveraging a number of ongoing programs."