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Open discussions may be the key to limiting medical mistakes

Doctors take an oath to do no harm. They dedicate their lives to healing patients and caring for the sick, but doctors are human and they make mistakes too. Unfortunately, doctor error means unnecessary injuries and suffering for patients in New York and beyond.

A report released in 1999 by the Institute of Medicine showed that up to 98,000 Americans die every year because of medical errors. The exact number of deaths due to medical mistakes today is uncertain, but some estimate that it is nearing 200,000. However, the question on everyone's mind should be why the number is increasing. Why are we not working to prevent medical mistakes?

There are a few theories that attempt to explain the rising number. One theory is that doctors in the United States perform more tests and procedures than in the past and more in comparison to other countries. For example, the number of M.R.I. scans performed is three times as many as in 1996.

While some of the testing and prescribing is needed, some of it may be excessive. Defensive medicine is becoming the norm, with doctors ordering unnecessary tests only to avoid potential malpractice claims.

Each additional procedure brings an added risk to the patient, but there may be ways to limit this risk. Ideas floating around include checklists tailored to eliminating hospital-related infections, rules that prevent interruptions during procedures and technology that is able to warn doctors of dangerous prescription combinations. But most importantly, may be a reminder to doctors and hospital that more testing and treatment is not always the answer.

Doctors have also taken to discussing the problem amongst themselves during weekly meetings. These meetings allow care providers to share their mistakes and any strange complications in a safe environment. Sharing information in this capacity may allow other doctors to learn from the mistakes and prevent them in the future

Within the medical community, the weekly talks have come to be known as Morbidity and Mortality (M and M). It is this tradition that may very well be the answer to the issue of doctor error because of the opportunity to learn from each other's mistakes and protect their patients.

Source: The New York Times, "More Treatment, More Mistakes," Sanjay Gupta, July 31, 2012

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