Monday, July 24, 2006

Medication errors and caring for health

I have spoken to groups about improving access to healthcare and controlling costs of healthcare both recently as Coroner and previously as the Director of a free medical clinic. I often get some of the questions pertaining to whether there are things short of major system changes that can be done to impact these issues. The questions are usually couched in terms of their feelings that major system changes are unlikely to occur (although I do not necessarily agree that major changes are unlikely). My answer usually centers on the need for “real” quality assurance measures and action to improve delivered health care, decreasing costs and allowing for expansion of access.

I ran across an article quoting a recent Institute of Medicine Report that seems to back up that view. It reports that there are 400,000 preventable in-hospital, drug-related care complications each year at a cost of over $4 billion a year.

Can you imagine what could be done with $4 billion in healthcare? Steps must be taken (see the report) to stop these errors and recoup these costs. Those monies should be used to provide care, not correcting mistakes; saving lives from disease, not from iatrogenic disease. That can be done within our current system, while we wait for the needed systemic changes in healthcare. Healthcare is an individual need and a societal need, paying for it now is cheaper than paying for it later.

Realize, also, that some of those medication errors also result in death; early, unnecessary death. That should be reason enough to implement changes to prevent these errors.

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