According to the most recent data compiled by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), approximately 100,000 Americans die each year as a result of medical errors. The startling rate of these errors merits “urgent attention” according to the National Healthcare Quality Report (NHQR) in which the statistics were published this April. Though the new healthcare law will begin penalizing hospitals which report high rates of preventable infections and other errors starting in 2015, the tragedy of fatal medical errors should compel lawmakers and healthcare providers to better address the state of the nation’s healthcare system.
The National Healthcare Quality Report
The annual NHQR tracks and analyzes the quality of healthcare in the United States. It measures the effectiveness, patient safety, patient centeredness and timeliness of the healthcare that citizens receive during all stages of care, from preventative care to end of life care. The report analyzes the data nationally before it is broken up into “State Snapshots” which detail the quality of care in each state. The NHQR is meant to provide both a “state of the union” on the topic of healthcare quality throughout the nation and it is used as a reference for lawmakers and healthcare providers as they prioritize and analyze proposed reforms and strive for improvements within the system.
Disparities in Quality of Care and Access to it
Dr. Carolyn M. Clancy, the director of the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) which constructed the report for the HHS, recently noted that “despite promising improvements in a few areas of health care, we are not achieving the more substantial strides that are needed to address persistent gaps in quality and access.” These gaps have been manifest in substandard care and lack of access to care for minorities and those found in less-affluent economic situations. For example, African-Americans, Hispanics, Asian-Americans and Native Americans are less likely than Caucasians to receive preventative antibiotics before surgery at the necessary time. Failure to receive these antibiotics in a timely fashion can lead to the spread of preventable and potentially fatal post-operative infections.
In addition, vulnerable populations such as the elderly, the infirm and children also suffer from disparities in healthcare and a higher rate of medical errors as a result of those disparities. For example, the last several NHQR reports have shown that hospitals tend to improve their rates of medical errors much more quickly than do ambulatory care centers and nursing homes. In general, the rates of medical errors and the quality of care vary with the stages of care. End of life care and chronic care boast high rates of errors and low rates of quality improvement.
The Need for Reform
The AHRQ has noted that while research supports that medical errors, specifically hospital-acquired infection rates, can be “radically reduced” by adopting standardized procedures in hospitals, not enough progress has been made to implement these procedures. In fact, of the five kinds of hospital-acquired infections tracked by the NHQR, only one kind of infection, postoperative pneumonia, marked any rate of improvement during this past year. Another kind of infection showed no rate change, and the other three tracked infection rates skyrocketed by as much as eight percent over the last twelve months.
The AHRQ announced last year that it would fund projects encouraging the use of standardized procedures that lead to decreases in medical errors in all 50 states. The new healthcare law will begin holding certain kinds of healthcare facilities more accountable for their medical error rates within the next five years. However, the overwhelming number of fatalities caused by preventable medical errors in the United States requires that lawmakers and healthcare providers work more quickly and more efficiently to reduce error and fatality rates as soon as humanly possible.
For Further Reference
If you are concerned that you or someone you care about has suffered as a result of a medical error, negligence or some other form of medical malpractice, please contact an experienced personal injury attorney who will help you explore your options.