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Is more communication the answer to preventing medical mistakes?

In 1999, the Institute of Medicine estimated that close to 100,000 people die each year as a result of medical mistakes. Today, some estimate that about twice as many people die due to errors made by physicians and other medical professionals.

One physician believes that the number of fatalities has increased as a result of defensive medicine. Patients in the United States are subjected to many more tests and procedures compared to people in other countries. In fact, in the last 16 years, the number of MRI scans performed in the U.S. has quadrupled.

Although many tests and procedures are necessary to detect certain conditions, unnecessary tests and procedures can lead to complications.

A doctor's first duty is to do no harm. However, mistakes are made. So, how should those errors be dealt with?

Some suggest turning to technology by using software that alerts doctors to prescription drug interactions. One doctor developed a checklist for physicians to follow to prevent infections.  Others suggest keeping distractions away from nurses as they are dispensing medication. However, one physician says communication is the answer.

Some hospitals refer to them as Morbidity and Mortality, private meetings that address errors that have been made. Physicians are held accountable, but more importantly, the meetings are held to allow doctors to learn from each other's mistakes and to implement procedures to prevent the same errors from happening again in the future.

Doctors should be held accountable by the hospitals that employ them. However, people who have been harmed as a result of a physician's mistake may also choose to hold them accountable through a medical malpractice lawsuit. After all, people in New York City and beyond deserve the best care possible. They should be able to rely on their physicians to provide that.

Source: CNN, "More is not always better in medicine," Sanjay Gupta, July 31, 2012

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