Doctors Confess Their Fatal Mistakes

Doctors, nurses, and pharmacists hold your life in their hands. Here, their shocking stories of what can go wrong—and what has to improve to keep us safe.

By Joe Kita from Reader's Digest | October 2010

Patient Safety: 5 Fresh Ideas

Offer a “guarantee.” Pennsylvania’s Geisinger Health System offers a 90-day warranty for coronary-artery-bypass grafts and other treatments. Patients pay a flat fee up front; if an avoidable complication develops within three months of a procedure, patients are not billed for any required medical care. Instituted in 2006, Geisinger’s warranties create a powerful incentive to do things right the first time—and have reduced the 30-day readmission rate by 44 percent.

Keep an eye on things. In industry, a number of companies use video cameras, motion sensors, and other devices to monitor operations. Now some medical centers are testing hospital video auditing to ensure workers wash their hands before entering and leaving a patient’s room. Performance scores are posted on an electronic “scoreboard.” Early results show the technology substantially boosts hand-washing.

Scan it. One study showed that about 20 percent of medication doses given to hospital patients involve some sort of mistake. So nurses at Parkview Medical Center in Pueblo, Colorado, carry small bar-code scanners that read patient wristbands and wirelessly link to the pharmacy and doctor records to ensure that the right medication is given at the right time and in the right dose. The error rate has dropped by more than half.

Take a walk. Senior executives at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston conduct weekly “WalkRounds” in which the president, CEO, or chief medical or nursing officers emphasize safety and listen as staffers discuss concerns. This high-profile advocacy of patient-safety is not only economical but has been shown to change behavior.

Practice, practice, practice. The Banner Simulation Medical Center in Mesa, Arizona, uses computerized mannequins to re-create emergency, surgical, and everyday-care scenarios for medical professionals-in-training. Though the program started less than a year ago, improvements in patient care are already being seen, a spokesperson says.

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