A public health crisis for a nation of patients

T

he United States is a nation of patients. More than 300 million Americans — 95 percent of us — encounter the nation’s health care system at least once in the space of five years. It’s essential that every health care encounter is safe and free from harm. Sadly, that isn’t the case.

Our daughter, Meredith, died not from the cancer she had been so bravely fighting but from a health care-associated infection that should have been preventable and for which there was no effective antibiotic. Meredith isn’t an exception. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that nearly three-quarters of a million Americans develop health care-associated infections each year, 75,000 of whom die during that hospitalization.

Other patients get the wrong medications, endure mistakes in surgery, experience falls in the hospital, receive treatments meant for someone else, develop pressure ulcers, and more. More than 12 million patients each year experience a diagnostic error in outpatient care, half of which could cause harm. One-third of Medicare beneficiaries in skilled nursing facilities experience adverse events.

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“Crossing the Quality Chasm,” an influential report from the Institute of Medicine (now the National Academy of Medicine), says that “tens of thousands of Americans die each year from errors in their care, and hundreds of thousands suffer or barely escape from nonfatal injuries that a truly high-quality care system would largely prevent.”

There have been improvements in patient safety in recent years, but they have been limited and inconsistent. New safety systems, like surgical checklists and medication barcoding, have taken hold in some places. But they have inexplicably failed to gain traction elsewhere.

My daughter’s death compelled me to help find…

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