News & Events

Hospital medical errors continue to draw media coverage

From the Massachusetts Nurse Newsletter
March 2005 Edition

Hospital medical errors continue to draw media coverage

Two recent newspaper accounts of hospital struggles with medical errors:

The Wall Street Journal (January 12, 2005) examined hospitals’ increasing use of "medication- checking protocol," which "too many" facilities lack, despite the potential for prescribing mistakes and "disaster." The Journal cited studies that have found that about half of medication errors occur because of mistakes made during admission or discharge. Gina Rogers, director of the medication-reconciliation program at the Massachusetts Coalition for the Prevention of Medical Errors, was quoted as saying the growing number of patients who take a variety of drugs has made the problem more acute. "Many patients are seeing multiple doctors and are taking many drugs that they may be ordering from different places, so it’s often hard to get a complete and accurate list," Rogers said.

Five years after the Institute of Medicine reported medical errors kill between 44,000 and 98,000 Americans annually, fear of medical mistakes remains a major concern for the public, Dr. Richard Hellman of the American College of Endocrinology said at a briefing reported by the AP/Las Vegas Sun on January 11, 2005.

Hellman estimated about half of people with a chronic condition experience a medical mistake while being treated at some point and he reported that diabetic patients are among those most at risk for a medical error.

The article identified use of electronic medical records and computerized physician order entry systems as well as the more labor intensive "coordinating treatment and educating patients to help care for themselves" as mechanisms that could reduce medical error.

The Institute of Medicine, in its groundbreaking report on nurses’ work environment and patient care highlighted poor staffing conditions and mandatory overtime as primary causes of medication errors. It called for every nurse to have the right to refuse an unsafe staffing assignment and a ban on mandatory overtime, as well as for ratios of 1:2 in the ICU.

The MNA’s safe RN staffing bill is the best means of preventing medical errors for nurses in Massachusetts and responds to the IOM’s recommendations. To learn more about the safe staffing bill visit the Safe Staffing section of this Website.

The MNA is also a founding member of the Massachusetts Coalition for the Prevention of Medical Errors, a coalition of health care organizations that is striving to prevent errors in our hospitals. The MNA has developed a special program to teach nurses and nurse administrators how to develop safer medication administration systems. The program is available to all MNA bargaining units free of charge. To learn more about the program and/or to schedule a presentation at your bargaining unit, contact Dorothy McCabe at 781.830.5714.