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Medical errors: Human or systemic?

April 18th, 2011

By jeremy.engdahl-johnson

That’s the qustion posed by The Lancet. The article cites recent articles from Health Affairs and the New England Journal of Medicine.

Who or what is to blame for medical errors and their consequences? Overworked providers, an unnecessarily complex medical system, or uninformed patients? Patients are often handed from one doctor to another and, in the process, communication between providers can break down. Time spent filling out paperwork is time not spent with patients improving the quality of their care. Decision making often does not involve informing a patient about the balance between benefits and harms of individual treatments, or incorporating patients’ goals into planned treatment. And it does not help that existing guidelines allow medical residents in the USA to work on average 28 h more per week than junior doctors in countries of the European Union. US health providers and policy makers must make patients’ safety a national priority. A good start in the right direction will be to implement at the federal level a mandatory and comprehensive nationwide monitoring system to track medical errors.

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