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Tuesday, 30 November, 1999, 11:04 GMT
Action urged on medical mistakes in US
operating theatre Medical mistakes `could be prevented'

Many medical errors, which are blamed for up to 98,000 deaths a year in the United States, could be prevented, according to a report.

The Institute of Medicine describes the rate of mistakes as "stunningly high" and calls for a series of measures to tighten up medical practice.

It points to a series of causes for the errors, from poor handwriting on prescriptions and similar sounding drug names to doctors struggling to keep up with latest developments and not facing regular checks on their competence.

Different studies have put the number of deaths caused by medical error in the US each year at between 44,000 and 98,000 and the report estimates the cost at $8.8bn a year.

William Richardson, chairman of the committee that wrote the report, said: "These stunningly high rates of medical errors - resulting in deaths, permanent disability and unnecessary suffering - are simply unacceptable in a system that promises first to `do no harm'."

Flaws

Flaws in the health system rather than individual recklessness are blamed for most errors and the report recommends a number of ways to improve health safety.


These stunningly high rates of medical errors are simply unacceptable
William Richardson
It calls for a national Center for Patient Safety, which would spend $100m a year on safety research, and a requirement on all hospitals to report mistakes to state agencies. This is already required in 20 US states, though the extent of reporting varies widely.

There is also a call for doctors and other health professionals to face regular checks on their competence and knowledge of safe practice. A similar system is due to be introduced in the UK by the General Medical Council within the next two years.

The Food and Drug Administration is urged to eradicate similar-sounding drug names which are blamed for errors in prescribing.

The report from the institute, a private organisation providing health policy advice under a congressional charter granted to the National Academy of Sciences, is the first in a series aimed at improving the quality of health care in America.

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See also:
23 Apr 99 |  Health
An easy mistake to make
23 Apr 99 |  Health
Doctors accused over baby overdose
10 Feb 99 |  Health
Failing doctors 'will be banned'
15 Oct 99 |  Health
Hospital blunder led to malaria death

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