Medical Mistakes show on Oprah

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Did you catch the Oprah Winfrey Show on Tuesday about medical mistakes? She featured actor Dennis Quaid who recalled the series of hospital errors that nearly killed his newborn twins after they were given one thousand times the amount of the blood-thinning drug Heparin—twice.

Quaid’s experience was not just an isolated blunder. More than 2.6 million patients are victims of infections and preventable medical errors each year, and 200,000 of them die.

In response, Quaid has started a patient organization called the Quaid Foundation and is pushing for bar coding systems at patients’ bedsides to avoid medication errors. He recently told reporters, “Individually, nurses, doctors and pharmacists are good people, but they’re hamstrung by working in a broken system that’s obsessed with protecting its bottom line,” reports the Health Blog.

Oprah also brought on Dr. Oz, who offered an eight-step checklist with some good pointers for avoiding medical harm: urging hospital staff to wash their hands before touching you, asking doctors to clean their stethoscopes, and marking your body where doctors should operate.

But we were concerned with a few of Dr. Oz’s statements. On why there are so many medical mistakes, Dr. Oz said, “It’s a busy place.” Quaid echoed this sentiment when he acknowledged that nurses work 24 hour shifts and “mistakes happen.”

Yes, they do, but most of these human errors are preventable! There are many different ways to prevent medical errors. We’d like to emphasize a few:

• Nurses should not be working 24 hours in a day.
• We need a national hospital infection reporting system so that patients can find out if their hospital has been providing unsafe care, and to make better choices about their medical care. Dr. Oz urged patients to go to hospitals that are accredited by the Joint Commission. Just because a hospital is accredited by the Joint Commission doesn’t guarantee that it is safe. In 2004, the Government Accountability Office found that, over a three-year period, the Joint Commission failed to identify “serious deficiencies” at hospitals determined to potentially jeopardize patient safety. Last year the Joint Commission told hospitals to improve their reporting of hospital infections that result in serious harm or death to the patient.
• Not every patient is able to follow Dr. Oz’s checklist, especially if they are chronically ill or unconscious. If you receive hospital treatment, have someone with you at your bedside, especially on weekends and nights. If a friend or loved one is unavailable, Consumer Reports Health blog advises how to find a good patient advocate.
• Better drug safety laws and enforcement. Changes to drug packaging and labeling would help prevent medication errors. And we need a better system to report drug side effects to the FDA.