R.I. Lawmaker Targets Hospital Errors

Between 44,000 and 98,000 patients die each year in U.S. hospitals because of mistakes, infections and other adverse situations. That’s more deaths than those caused by breast cancer, AIDS or car accidents.

Most of those deaths are avoidable, acoording to Rhode Island Sen. Charles J. Levesque (D-Dist. 11, Portsmouth, Bristol), who has introduced legislation aimed at reducing their occurrences in hospitals in his state.

Senator Levesque’s “Patient Safety and Medical Error Reduction Act” (2007-S 0650) would require all hospitals in Rhode Island to participate in a program to increase patient safety by reducing medical errors.

Most of the hospitals in Rhode Island are among the 3,000 hospitals nationwide already participating voluntarily in a campaign run by the Institute for Healthcare Improvement to reduce medical errors, infections and other mishaps.

Their voluntary participation is excellent, said Senator Levesque, but he would like to see them all taking part.

“Everybody involved in the health care system wants patients to be safe and to receive proper care when they’re in the hospital. I’m sure we can all agree that all hospitals in Rhode Island should be doing everything they can to reduce mistakes, hospital-acquired infections and medication errors so every patient can leave the hospital healthier than when he or she arrived,” said Levesque.

The act specifically lists two national organizations – the National Quality Forum and the Institute for Healthcare Improvement – that have developed programs to help reduce medical errors, but hospitals would be allowed to use other programs as long as they are approved by the Department of Health. Each hospital would be required to report their progress in improving patient safety.

The act would also link hospitals’ performance in terms of patient safety to funding by allowing the Department of Human Services to use it to determine their reimbursement rates.

Common ways hospitals can increase patient safety include standardizing safety, communication and sterilization procedures. Computerizing patient information to the greatest extent possible is also a way to reduce the possibility of human error.

According to a 1999 Institute of Medicine report, To Err is Human, costs of preventable “adverse events” in hospitals are estimated to be between $17 billion and $29 billion every year.

“Mistakes in hospitals hurt everyone. They tarnish the health care industry, they cost everyone money in the form of higher health care and insurance costs, and worst of all, they cost lives. I commend the hospitals in Rhode Island that are already taking the initiative to reduce errors and infections, and I hope this legislation formalizes this process and ensures every hospital’s full compliance,” said Senator Levesque.

Source: R.I. Leguslative Press Bureau