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The Patient Safety Movement

At the conclusion of the Patient Safety Summit earlier this month, a wide range of political and safety advocates spoke up in support of the goal to eliminate all preventable medical errors by the year 2020. Recent estimates have suggested that more than 400,000 people die each year as a result of such errors, so reducing them to zero is a laudable goal. But is it a realistic one?

Part of the problem is a limited understanding of what leads to preventable medical errors. Something cannot be prevented if you have no idea how it comes to pass in the first place. The Patient Safety Movement is seeking commitments from hospitals, patient advocates, medical technology businesses and others that it believes can drive the entire culture toward safety. These groups have the power to share information about how errors occur and address them systematically. 

Perhaps a larger part of the problem is that patient safety is not clearly profitable. The medical industry has proven quite lucrative despite its abysmal safety record. The effort to cap medical malpractice awards and blame the tiny sum granted to patients who have been harmed or the families of people killed by medical malpractice for the shocking rise in health care costs has effectively obscured the issue. Hospitals and doctors are killing people with mistakes without harming a relatively rosy financial outlook. Unless the financial cost of these mistakes rises above the profit in cutting corners and sweeping them under the rug, medical errors are likely to continue.

Source: Forbes, "Can Business Savvy, Clout And Charisma Supercharge Patient Safety?," by Michael Millenson, 29 January 2015 

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