“In 2010, 15,000 Medicare patients per month experienced medical errors in a hospital that contributed to their deaths. Annually, that adds up to around 180,000 patients”. The static above reported by a recent article (Study: Only 14% Of Medical Errors Reported by Hospitals) in the Consumerist can make anyone’s head swim. But when you also find out that according to American Medical Association (JAMA), over 225,000 people die each year due to medical malpractice and that it has become the third leading cause of death in the United States, you realize that something is seriously wrong.
Imagining the Implications
What are we to make of these numbers; does that mean the probability of dying from flu at home is much less than dying from a hospital acquired infection. What will happen if we were to extrapolate similar numbers from around the globe, the implications would surely be mind boggling considering that the numbers above represent an economically robust country. Does that mean hospitals are rotten horrid chambers of death and despair that only care about making money? I don’t think so; I believe a hospital like any other business wants to give the best product or service possible within its resources. The problem is, hospitals like most businesses do not have good monitoring and reporting mechanisms that give them quantifiable data to institute improvements. The trouble with hospitals is, that this lack of measurement and reporting can cost a life and that is a huge price to pay for an internal control weakness.
It’s true that the monitoring mechanism for preventable infections and medical errors leave a lot to be desired and can actually make hospitals safer. However, there is another factor which is very important to ensure that hospitals remain accountable and committed to improving their processes. Public reporting of medical errors and a commitment to achieve yearly targets on patient safety is imperative if we want to see hospitals improve. Recently, there has been some interest in non-financial reporting by healthcare service providers. According to the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) database, so far 65 corporate responsibility/sustainability reports have been issued by healthcare service providers across the globe with 30 reports from Europe, 24 from Latin America, seven from North America and only 4 from Asia and Africa combined. The GRI framework requires disclosure of all incidents of product/ service health and safety violation and by willingly agreeing to publish this data in a report; a hospital is making a public commitment to improve the numbers. Other information disclosed in these reports which addresses some of the common concerns in the healthcare industry are patient health and safety measures, incidents of violation of patient privacy, quantity and mode of disposal for waste generated and the overall impact of the operations on eco-sphere. There are also hospitals that have gone one step further and externally assured the accuracy of the numbers reported. This assurance from a third party gives credibility to the data reported and positions the reporter as someone who actually is committed to making an improvement to the numbers.
Although the GRI framework is not tailored to the healthcare industry (as yet), it can prove to be a valuable resource for a hospital that is looking to build trust and establish itself as a safe and responsible hospital. By reporting on some of the indicators in the GRI framework, the hospital not only discloses its performance but also initiates a cyclic mechanism of monitoring and improvement. Let us hope that with the rise in this trend, we can see an improvement in the medical error numbers and that it will help establish trust in the general public about hospitals.