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Outpatient Medical Errors Surpass Those of In-Patient Errors

Written by Berkowitz

healthcare worker on a tabletThe Institute of Medicine originally shocked the public decades ago by estimating that as many as 98,000 patients were dying each year due to medical mistakes in hospitals. However, a study published by The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) suggests that outpatient errors could be just as hazardous – if not more – than in-patient errors.

Researchers from the Weill Cornell Medical College in New York assessed damage awards in malpractice claims ranging from 2005 to 2009. They found that claims involving outpatient care were actually more than half of all of the claims paid out in 2009 – and it wasn’t isolated to just in-patient care.

While researchers did note a decline in the number of claims over the period that they studied, that rate of decline was larger for events that took place inside hospitals rather than outside. This means that there were less in-house errors performed – and less malpractice suits because of it.

Why are Outpatient Errors Occurring More?

While inpatient claims account for higher settlements and, often, are due to complications from surgery, outpatient settings accounted for the higher volume of injuries and deaths associated with medical errors.

This finding prompted researchers to then look into what could be causing the increased rate of error. One possibility that researchers proposed was that sophisticated procedures, including some surgeries, have moved from inpatient to outpatient. This can lead to higher error rates among these injuries, especially if they are performed in small surgical centers that do not have the same controls and protocols in place as major hospitals.

Another possible cause is that overworked and overwhelmed doctors are causing more errors. Internists see more patients each day, for example. The more patients they take on, the less time they spend with each patient in the examination room. Also, the amount of data available between one physician to the next is limited – even with electronic health records. When physicians do not have all of the data in front of them, it can be difficult to make a proper decision.

What Can Be Done to Correct It?

There are things that can be done to limit the number of outpatient injuries or deaths. Some things physicians can do include:

  1. Communicating with patients more effectively. Often, the issue is a lack of informed consent. Patients do not realize the risks involved with a procedure; had they been aware, they would not have consented to the procedure. Physicians need to more clearly communicate these potential risks, so that their patients are aware of what they are consenting to.
  2. Improved sanitation and sterilization procedures. Those facilities that offer outpatient procedures need to follow guidelines that hospitals employ for sterilization. Lack of sterilization can lead to transmission of diseases and increased infection rates.
  3. Medication errors and administration needs to be monitored. Another common error is medication administration. Patients are being given medications without proper history records, monitoring or consideration of side-effects.

Were You Injured in an Outpatient Setting?

If you were injured in an outpatient procedure or were the victim of medical malpractice, you could be entitled to compensation. Speak with a medical malpractice attorney right away for a case evaluation. Contact Berkowitz and Hanna LLC today to schedule a no-obligation case evaluation. Call us or contact us online to get started.