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According to a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine this week, the incidence or medical mistakes has not improved over the last decade despite efforts to improve patient safety. In fact, instead of improvements, the study found a high rate of problems. About 18 percent of patients were harmed by medical care, and 63.1 percent of the mistakes were preventable. While most of the mistakes caused only minor or temporary harm, about 2.4 percent of the mistakes caused or contributed to a patient’s death. The most common problems were complications from procedures or drugs and hospital acquired infections. A recent government report found similar results, finding that in October 2008, 13.5 percent of Medicare patients, or about 134,000 patients, were victims of “adverse events” during their hospital stays and finding that about 1.5 percent of those, or about 15,000, involved mistakes that contributed to deaths.
Yet, a move is afoot in Tallahassee to grant complete immunity to most doctors and hospitals for these mistakes, even if they cause deaths. Similar moves are being pursued in Washington D.C. When people don’t have to pay for breaking rules, the rules get broken. This is no less true for doctors or hospitals who break the rules than it is for folks who run red lights.