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Efforts to Decrease Medical Errors: A Report Card

A lot of very smart people are looking at ways to decrease the incidence of medical malpractice in this country. The early returns are not good, according to a new study published in the New England Journal of Medicine. The study found that efforts to decrease medical malpractice in our hospitals has, at least as of 2007, failed and that the Institute of Medicine’s goal of a 50% reduction during a 5-year period has not been met, to say the least.

Interestingly, the 10 North Carolina hospitals chosen in the study were picked in part because they were considered progressive in their handling of and addressing the root causes of medical malpractice. The authors, and we have no way of gauging this beyond taking their word for it, believe these results are indicative of malpractice rates in this country generally.

Does this mean that efforts to reduce malpractice don’t work? The authors suggest the opposite, saying that focused efforts to reduce discrete harms, such as nosocomial infections and surgical complications, can significantly improve safety. I think it means that we have to do more of what we have been doing and do it better.

It is worth noting that the study does not speak to the last three years. It does seem that more and more people are looking at the problem and trying to find real solutions.