Medical Erros and Accountability

In this week’s New England Journal of Medicine, two physicians discuss the status of medical errors in healthcare in the context of the 10th anniversary of To Err is Human, the Institute of Medicine’s report concerning patient safety. The authors, Robert M. Wachter, M.D. and Peter J. Pronovost, M.D., Ph.D. both extol the progress made in patient safety, both physicians acknowledge that medical errors remain a significant concern.

Interestingly, both physicians make a strong case for increased physician accountability in resolving and avoiding medical errors that cause an estimated 100,000 preventable deaths in the US each year. Pronovost argues,“But despite making systems safer and counseling staff on best practices, mistakes continue to happen, so it’s time to add some accountability and enforcement policies to address and stop unsafe practices,” he says.

The authors cite such examples of unsafe practices as healthcare workers’ failure to properly wash their hands before entering a patient’s room as well as failure to avoid wrong site surgeries, which are estimated at 4,000 each year.

Accountability and transparency are important factors in avoiding medical errors and malpractice as well as ensuring patient safety. The article’s recognition that the “no blame” approach in dealing with medical errors and patient safety is not a panacea for good medical practice or patient safety.