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Mass. Hospitals’ Medical Errors List Lengthens

Update Date: Aug 14, 2014 12:22 PM EDT

According to health officials, the number of serious medical errors and other patient injuries has spiked drastically in Massachusetts acute-care hospitals. Officials credited the huge increase in errors to the recently expanded definitions of what falls under the category of medical harm.

This year's number totaled 753, which represents a 70 percent jump from last year. For serious medical errors that occurred in other hospitals, such as psychiatric or rehabilitative care facilities, this year's number was 206, a 60 percent jump from the rate in 2012. Dr. Madeleine Biondolillo, associate commissioner of the Department of Public Health, which is responsible for collecting this data, stated that they are not sure whether or not the spikes in errors is due to carelessness or due to the fact that hospitals are required to report a wider range of incidents. However, regardless of what is responsible for the spike, preventable medical errors are still occurring despite a decade long effort to improve patient safety.

"Do I think things are getting better? No,'' said Dr. Allan Frankel, a former safety head at Partners Healthcare and now chief medical officer of Safe & Reliable Healthcare, a Colorado-based consulting company reported in the Boston Globe. "When you think about what the hospitals are dealing with, reducing adverse events is incredibly complicated."

The medical situations that had some of the largest increases from 2012 included patients undergoing surgery on the wrong region of the body, being burned by an operating room fire or by a heating pack that was too hot, given contaminated drugs, or undergoing a procedure when doctors used improperly sterilized medical equipment. The hospitals also cited more patient falls, assaults, suicides, attempted subsided and serious bed sores.

Massachusetts's hospitals first started reporting lapses in care in 2008. The cases are meant to give regulators and hospital administrators a better perspective on the situation. By understanding how these errors occur, they can ideally better prevent them in the future. The errors are also reported to the patients and their families if required.

The importance of preventing medical errors was first highlighted by the Institute of Medicine in 1999 when the IOM reported that tens of thousands of patients end up dying in hospitals due to mistakes that could have been avoided.

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