Sometimes these things just happen…
But sometimes they can be prevented. Today's article in the New York Times reminds us that some of the deaths and serious injuries that result from medical errors can easily be prevented, with a little extra care and some effective incentives:
Since 2005, central-line bloodstream infections, which stem from bacteria invading a catheter leading to the heart and can often be fatal, have fallen 55 percent in adult intensive care units at the city’s 11 public hospitals, according to statistics released last week. Ventilator-associated pneumonia, caused by bacteria in breathing tubes and which also can be fatal, declined by 78 percent.
Before the hospital system began cracking down on them in late 2005, preventable infections were considered part of the collateral damage of advanced lifesaving techniques, such a routine occurrence that few people questioned their prevalence, or the deaths that resulted from them.
Speaking of incentives, the article points out the perverse incentives against taking on patient safety:
In fact, there had been a perverse financial upside to hospital-based infections, since they filled beds that might otherwise be empty. But changes in government reimbursements have driven New York’s public hospitals, which serve the city’s poorest patients, to tackle the problem.
As part of a pay-for-performance plan, the federal government and many private insurers are planning to stop reimbursing hospitals for harm caused to patients by certain preventable errors.