Two Steps Forward, One Step Back for Patient Safety in Hospitals

There’s been a lot of good news lately about what hospitals are doing to protect patients: Many have improved their infection control practices, many are looking at the value of “hospitalists” (doctors who practice exclusively with inpatients) and many have embraced palliative care.

Yet for every two steps forward for patient safety, it appears as though many hospitals are taking at least one step back. As reported last week in The New York Times, a federal report concluded that hospital employees recognize and report only 1 in 7 errors, accidents and other events that harm Medicare patients.

An even more shocking revelation in the report by Department of Health and Human Services investigators is that once hospitals do investigate preventable injuries and infections, they seldom change their practices to thwart them from recurring. This despite the fact, as HHS Inspector General Daniel R. Levinson pointed out, that Medicare reimbursements to hospitals are contingent on them tracking such errors and adverse events, analyzing and addressing them.

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