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New Approaches For Preventing Medical Malpractice

Honesty pays. In medical malpractice, it would pay doctors and medical organizations to be honest and pay legitimate claims. That was one of the findings of a recent study of the University of Michigan Health System. Beginning in 2001, Michigan changed their approach to malpractice claims. They decided to be up front with patients when errors took place. They decided to pay quickly when a situation warranted payment. Lawsuits and costs of defense declined 61 percent.

Miami medical malpractice attorneys have seen that the new approach is part of an expanding push nationwide to tackle one of medicine's most complicated and agonizing problems. In 1999 a report by the Institute of Medicine found that as many as 98,000 Americans die every year from preventable medical errors. Since then, things have gotten worse as medical personnel are overloaded with patients in an effort to save money. There is also a tradition of shaming and blaming individual practitioners when things go wrong.

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Part of solving the problem of midical mistakes is changing the culture of hierarchy. In the prevailing culture, doctors tend to reign supreme and nurses, pharmacists, and technicians fall into the ranks below.

Johns Hopkins's Dr. Peter Pronovost, author of "Safe Patients, Smart Hospitals" says, "What underlies it is arrogance." In his book he describes a run-in with a surgeon who refused to switch from latex to non-latex gloves during a hernia operation, despite Pronovost's concern that the patient was having a potentially fatal latex-allergy reaction. It was only after a nurse picked up the phone to call the hospital president that the surgeon relented. "This patient," Pronovost writes, "could have died from ignorance and arrogance--a lethal combination."

Another reason for preventable medical harm, according to Pronovost, is fatalism. "For decades, harm has been viewed as inevitable rather than preventable," he says. "We've learned to tolerate it."

Medical school training is filled with science and technology, but short on social and emotional sensitivity and teamwork. Breakdowns in communication and collaboration, though, can lead to mistakes and even death.

Changes can be made. Five years ago the University of Illinois College of Medicine launched an annual roundtable meeting with safety leaders, policymakers, and patients to brainstorm better training. Medical students now take workshops on risk reduction and simulate tasks in a hospitallike setting so that they can craft both their technical skills and their interaction with team members. Mengyao Liang, a fourth-year student. says, "It's not a sign of weakness to say 'I made a mistake. I think our generation will say, 'Why are you not questioning me?' I think that's going to be a huge change." And a necessary one. 

Source: Newsweek "Do No Harm" 9/27/2010

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