Hospital Safety Practices Could Make You Sick

By: Tracie Potts, NBC News
By: Tracie Potts, NBC News

People go to the hospital to get well - not get sick. But the Institute for Healthcare Improvement says 40-thousand medical mistakes happen every day in this country. And, their new report suggests the situation isn't getting much better.

We should point out the group that did this study, Healthgrades, is a paid consultant for hospitals. But in this report, they used government Medicare data to figure out which hospitals are making sick patients even sicker.

A Rhode Island hospital was fined for a string of medical mistakes, but it's not alone. Healthgrades reports nearly a million bad outcomes across the country from 2006 to 2008.

The most common:
- failure to rescue patients from complications
- bed sores
- respiratory failure after operations
- and sepsis - whole body infections.

Dr. Rick May of Healthgrades says blood clots were also common:

"A blood clot in the lung that breaks loose usually from your legs, goes up and it stops the circulation cold in your chest and basically kills you within seconds."

Healthgrades reports most of the 99,000 people who died, died as a direct result of these complications.

What's not clear is how often the hospital is to blame - after all, these are the sickest patients. The American Hospital Association says: "We are continually mindful of the need to get better at safer care. This is a critically important issue." But argues their data - direct from patient medical records - is more accurate.

Healthgrades says most of the best hospitals are in the Midwest. Dr. Peter Pronovost of Johns Hopkins School of Medicine did a study there; pushing nurses to make sure doctors are washing their hands, to prevent infections.

"The nurses' responses were: 'It's not my job to police the doctors. If I do I’m going to get my head bit off.' The doctors said: 'Peter, there's no way a nurse could question me in public - it makes me look like I don't know something."

Healthgrades says ignoring patient safety isn't just dangerous; It's expensive, costing nearly 9 billion dollars.

Though the hospital industry disagrees with how this report was done, it admits there's inconsistency among hospitals and room for improvement.

So, how are the hospitals in our area doing on patient safety? Check out the Healthgrades study at www.healthgrades.com. The government also has an extensive database of info directly from patient records. You can search and compare local hospitals at www.hospitalcompare.hhs.gov.


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