Patient safety is not improving: studies

Well, this is discouraging. Two recent studies indicate that, after a decade-long, nationwide campaign to make hospitals safer for patients, essentially no progress has been made.

A patient checking into a hospital today appears to face at least a one-in-four chance of coming to some degree of harm there.

A study published this week in the New England Journal of Medicine looked at the records of 2,341 patients discharged from 10 randomly selected hospitals in North Carolina, which was chosen because of that state's "high level of engagement in efforts to improve patient safety."

The study took place between January 2002 and December 2007. What it found was, in short, that "harm to patients resulting from medical care was common in North Carolina, and the rate of harm did not appear to decrease significantly during a 6-year period ending in December 2007, despite substantial national attention and allocation of resources to improve the safety of care," the report stated.

A total of 588 patients were injured — 25.1 percent of study subjects. Harm was caused by, in declining numbers, procedures, drugs, hospital-based infections, other therapies, tests, falls and other causes, the study found. Sixty-three percent of these injuries were deemed to have been preventable. Nine preventable errors resulted in death, and 13 in permanent damage.

In addition, a report from the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services released earlier this month documented the experiences of 780 randomly selected Medicare patients discharged from various hospitals in October of 2008.

About one in seven of these patients experienced "adverse events" — serious harm that comes to a patient as a result of medical care.

A second group of about the same size in the HHS study suffered "temporary harm," a transient injury like bedsores (here called "pressure ulcers") for example, or hypoglycemia. Twenty-seven percent of temporary harm events were caused by drugs.

Twenty-eight percent of patients who experienced more serious "adverse events" also suffered some temporary harm during the same hospital stay.

About 44 percent of all these events — adverse events and temporary harm — in the HHS study were deemed preventable — the result of errors, substandard care, or insufficient monitoring.

In 1999, the independent, not-for-profit Institute of Medicine published a report on hospital safety, "To Err is Human," which caused a sensation and produced a massive effort to improve protocols at hospitals across the country. The goal was to decrease errors by 50 percent over a five-year period.

"To Err is Human" asserted that as many as 98,000 patients die in hospitals each year because of medical error.

Commenting on the two discouraging new studies, the authors of the NEJM report on patient safety in North Carolina write, "All the findings about extent of harm should increase our commitment to prevent it."

Planning to head off childhood obesity

September is Be Kind to Writers and Editors Month, and as both writer and editor here at Birth Story, I intend to take advantage of this important event. I've been writing some long posts, but I'm hoping to keep them a bit shorter this month.Red typewriter

September is also Baby Safety Month, as well as National Preparedness Month, two interrelated observances, you could say, as planning ahead could help keep that baby safe.

Jane E. Brody's Personal Health column in the New York Times Science section today, for example, suggests that moms should adopt a healthy regimen, and maintain a lean frame, even before they get pregnant, if they want to help their children avoid becoming overweight themselves.

Brody's piece is a survey of the present understandings of how a mother's weight while pregnant affects the health of her fetus.

Her chief reference is a recent Lancet article that sought to tease apart the influence of genetics from the effects of more-than-adequate weight gain during pregnancy.

A separate study in Circulation "found that a woman’s weight before pregnancy was even more important than excessive weight gain during pregnancy in predicting a number of risks for the baby" that included childhood obesity," Brody writes.

"The new findings suggest that Americans are now caught in a vicious cycle of increasing fatness, with prospective mothers starting out fatter, gaining more weight during pregnancy and giving birth to babies who are destined to become overweight adults," Brody writes.

The latest recommendations from the Institute of Medicine, a subsidiary of the National Academy of Sciences, call for these weight gains during pregnancy:

¶28 to 40 pounds for thin women, with a B.M.I. of 18.5 or lower.

¶25 to 35 pounds for normal-weight women, with a body mass index of 18.6 to 24.9.

¶15 to 25 pounds for overweight women, with a body mass index of 25 to 29.9.

¶11 to 20 pounds for obese women, with a body mass index of 30 or higher.

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons