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According to a six-year study at 10 hospitals in North Carolina recently published in the New England Journal of Medicine, medical errors and patient harms are not on the decline despite attempts by hospitals to reduce them.

While most harms were minor and temporary, 50 were life-threatening, 17 resulted in permanent problems and 14 people died, said the researchers, who selected North Carolina hospitals because the state has shown a strong commitment to patient safety. The admissions records spanned the period from January 2002 to December 2007.

Study author Dr. Christopher Landrigan said the results likely reflect what’s happening nationwide. A 1999 Institute of Medicine report publicizing high medical error rates spurred many U.S. hospitals to implement safety-promoting changes, but no uniform set of guidelines exists to direct facilities which changes to tackle, he said. –HealthDay

The 1999 report found that nearly 100,000 patients die every year in the U.S. as a result of preventable medical errors. This number is admittedly appalling, especially in light of the monumental and perpetually rising cost of health care in the U.S. But while increasing patient safety has become an important goal for regulatory agencies, efforts to achieve this goal have been neither concerted nor whole-hearted enough to make a difference.

This being the case, one has to wonder why Republicans are choosing to take up even more time and even more money in our courts fighting against health care reform legislation when they could be fighting for patient safety, which in the long run, would save the country a lot more money by helping to prevent medical errors that often cost tends of thousands of dollars to correct (if they’re even correctable at all). Ways to increase patient safety all across the country include limiting consecutive work hours for medical staff and using electronic medical records—things Congress could easily accomplish if it would stop its petty bickering.

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