Editorial: Washinton Post Bears Down on Medical Error

The Washington Post is really focusing in on the lack of progress dealing with medical error in the U.S. Whether it is the Catholic Church or corporate America, the deeper you look, the worse it gets.

A Medical Enron

Washington Post Editorial; Monday, December 9, 2002; Page A22

“The sources of error are various. Surgeons mix up patients’ X-rays or look at them the wrong way up; as a result, they operate on the wrong patient or the wrong body part. Doctors and health workers fail to follow basic hygiene procedures such as washing hands or changing gloves; the consequent infections account for thousands of deaths a year. The largest single source of error stems from faulty drug prescriptions. One recent study found that one in five doses of medicine dispensed to patients involved an error. Either the wrong drug was given, or the wrong dose, or it was given at the wrong time.

“These various errors reflect the arrogance of the medical priesthood. Even though doctors themselves have produced studies showing how fatigue erodes worker competence, they persist in thinking that it’s normal for junior members of their profession to put in more than 100 hours of work a week. Even though every other profession has embraced computers’ ability to enhance human performance, doctors persist in scribbling prescriptions in illegible handwriting rather than punching them into a computer that might alert them if the dose is wrong. Studies of hospital infections find that junior workers are most likely to wash their hands properly. It is doctors who are most likely to forget this chore.”

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