Patient Safety Should Be Priority

 By Mike End

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services estimates that 180,000 Medicare patients across the U.S. die each year because of medical errors. The number of deaths has been steadily increasing for the past 10 years and is comparable to a Boeing 747 crashing and killing all its passengers every day of the year. If that many people died in plane crashes, the public would demand that something be done.

We need a national education and awareness-building campaign for improving patient safety at the local level. That is the purpose of National Patient Safety Awareness Week, which is March 6-12.

Strides must be taken to better prevent medical errors. A recent study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that hospital quality initiatives over the past decade have not significantly reduced medical errors. We need more effective action.

Concrete steps toward improved safety would include: enforcing adequate staffing levels at a time when many hospitals are cutting back on nurses; encouraging the involvement of patients' families in their care; and training doctors, nurses, and other staff how to avoid common but devastating errors.
 
Too many politicians and corporate interest groups are concerned only about the relatively few lawsuits that are filed, rather than the huge number of deaths and disabling injuries that occur. Their solution is to take away the rights of the most severely injured patients to recover fair compensation. The facts, however, show that Wisconsin does not need such restrictions of our rights.

In 2009, there were only 137 medical malpractice cases filed in Wisconsin, which is one for every 41,275 people in the state. It was the fourth year in a row that the number of case filings set a new record low.

According to the National Practitioner Data Bank, there were 64 payments made to patients on account of doctor negligence in Wisconsin in 2008. That comes to 3.7 payments for every 1,000 doctors, the third lowest ratio of all the states.

Finally, out of the billions spent on health care, medical malpractice costs make up only 33 cents out of every $100 spent on health care in Wisconsin.

Still, politicians find that the path of least resistance is to attack our constitutional right to justice on the back end rather than to address patient safety on the front end.

We need something very different. Our state and our nation cry out for a thoughtful campaign to improve the quality of our health care system and to take every step possible to protect the safety of each patient.
 
We should commemorate National Patient Safety Awareness Week by working to prevent needless medical errors, not by taking away the constitutional rights of severely injured patients.

Mike End is the President of the Wisconsin Association for Justice, the state's largest statewide voluntary bar organization. The Wisconsin Association for Justice stands with consumers to promote a fair and effective justice system for every citizen, not just the privileged and wealthy.

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