NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Market Approaches To Decrease Medical Errors

August 11, 2000

Businesses that purchase health coverage and health care providers are now working on initiatives to decrease, and in some cases eliminate, medical mistakes and their potentially fatal consequences.

Medical errors cause more deaths annually than motor vehicle accidents, breast cancer or AIDS. Between 44,000 and 98,000 hospital patients die each year from medical errors. Yet few resources have been devoted to reducing medical errors and increasing medical safety.

However, a business group called the Leapfrog Group -- which includes General Electric, General Motors and General Telephone and Electronics -- is pooling resources and purchasing power to force improvements in patient safety and quality of care by only using providers and plans which improve in these areas. Among the safety measures sought by Leapfrog are:

  • Computerizing records and orders to prevent errors from misreading handwriting and to check drug orders against patient records for any potential negative consequences;
  • Having elective surgeries performed in hospitals with significant experience in the procedure;
  • And staffing Intensive Care Units (ICUs) with certified critical care physicians during the daytime and requiring them to return pages within 5 minutes during off duty hours.

Other private groups have proposed ways to decrease medical errors. U. S. Pharmacopeia and the Institute for Safe Medication Practices want to eliminate all handwritten prescriptions because of the problems of handwriting and drug interaction. The American Hospital Association (AHA) and VHA Inc. have started programs within hospitals and other health care organizations to distribute and share information to help them lower risks of medical errors.

Source: Elizabeth White, "Industry, Purchaser-Driven Efforts to Curb Medical Mistakes Grows" June 5, 2000, BNA's Health Care Policy Report.


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