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Medical and Surgical Errors Targeted by New Federal Program

Reducing medical and surgical errors ranging from transfusing patients with the wrong type of blood to allowing bedsores to develop on patients with restricted mobility is the goal of a $1 billion private-public partnership just launched as part of the health care reforms called for in the 2010 Affordable Care Act. Medicare patients who pay out of pocket for their medical treatments will be the first group of patients to see any positive outcomes from efforts to limit foreign objects retained after surgery, air embolisms, blood incompatibilities, stage III and IV pressure ulcers (i.e., bedsores), falls and trauma, vascular catheter-associated infections, catheter-associated urinary tract infections and manifestations of poor glycemic control (e.g., sudden onset diabetes) to as near to zero as possible.

Speaking with the Chicago Tribune, Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Director Dr. Don Berwick admitted the goal of reducing preventable medical and surgical mistakes by 40 percent over three years to fewer than 1 per 1,000 patients was ambitious, but also one that was necessary to meet. "Those are big goals," he said. "But the results for patients and families will be dramatic -- millions of people suffering less, tens of thousands of deaths averted, and anguish and worry decreased beyond measure."

Currently, CMS data collected through the agency's Hospital Compare website show that Sentara Norfolk General and Sentara Virginia Beach General have rates of so-called "never events" and the other highly preventable errors targeted in the improvement initiative that are three times too high. No hospital in Hampton Roads committed zero medical mistakes, noted the Virginian-Pilot. Across the United States, nearly 100,000 patients die or suffer serious injuries or illnesses each year as a result of negligence by doctors, surgeons and nurses.

Steps local in-patient health care facilities are taking to prevent infections and bedsores are closely monitoring catheter use and ensuring that bedridden patients are turned or moved at least once a day.

My law partners and I represents dozens of victims doctors' errors and surgeons' mistakes each year. While we recognize that practically no health care professionals intentionally injure or kill patients, we have frequently called on everyone involved in keeping people healthy to identify and improve personal and systemic practices that can lead to patient harm. Even taking a simple and obvious steps of using checklists and equipment counts while doing operations can save many lives.

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