Reducing Medical Errors from the Ground Up




Reducing Medical Errors from the Ground Up

In a time when tens of thousands of people die or are seriously injured due to medical mistakes annually, many hospitals are trying innovative solutions to making hospitals safer for patients.  

In 1999, the issue of medical malpractice intensified.  According to the Institute of Medicine, 44,000 to 98,000 patients die because of medical mistakes annually.  More people are dying at the hands of medical professionals than from car accidents or breast cancer.  The cost of preventable medical errors is as high as $29 billion, according to 1999 statistics.  

In light of these startling statistics, hospitals have begun taking action to increase patient safety and reduce the risk of medical errors.

In May 2003, St Joseph’s hospital in Wisconsin set up an anonymous hotline to which staff could report medical mistakes made by themselves or a colleague.  Prior to the hotline, the hospital received 250 reports of medical error monthly.  After the hotline was established, the hospital received an average of 3,000 reports of preventable medical error each month.  

Then chief of the hospital, John Reiling, decided to approach the problem of patient safety from an environmental design perspective.  A newly designed facility would be built to prevent medical errors and help doctors and other medical professionals do their jobs more carefully and more precisely.  

To achieve these goals, standardization was made an important focus.  Every room was made the same size and with the same layout so that health professionals would know where to find things in an emergency.  The plan also included specific measures to reduce risks such as slip-free flooring and sound-proof walls.  Lighting was improved in every area of the facility.  Ultraviolet equipment and filters were installed to reduce the risk spreading infection and other germs.  

Experts believe these and other measures will reduce the frequency of medical errors, lower the prevalence of infection, injuries from falls, and decrease the total length of stay for many patients.  

Other hospitals are also implementing design changes to reduce the risk of medical error and patient injury.  The University of Michigan Health System improved their new facility by allowing air to circulate through the hospital only once instead of the standard eight times in a typical hospital.  This will not only reduce the risk of infection spread, it will also protect people in the event of a chemical or biological attack or outbreak.  

Some hospitals are terminating their use certain building materials that increase the risk of spreading disease or foster mold growth.  

While there are some drawbacks to some recent hospital design renovations—including aesthetically drab quarters, increased time to get to some patients, and more—these changes have gained the interest of many people in the hospital industry who want to reduce the risk of medical malpractice.  

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