The Goal is to Communicate

Published in: Newsweek
Written by: Claudia Kalb

10/16/2006 – Every day, hospitals across the country care for Americans in need. Babies are born, heart-attack victims are saved, broken bones are healed. But today, as the population ages, medical demands surge and costs rise, America’s hospitals are being tested like never before. Solving the crisis is a formidable task, but innovative hospitals are rising to the challenge—they’re reforming nursing practices, digitizing medical records, transforming end-of-life care.

The most urgent hurdle of all: improving patient safety. In 1999, the Institute of Medicine declared that close to 100,000 Americans die annually from medical errors. This year, more dire news: medication errors harm at least 1.5 million people and cost some $3.5 billion per year. What goes wrong? Missed diagnoses, incorrect drug dosing, failure to treat promptly. Experts agree that doctors, nurses, pharmacists and technicians will always make mistakes—it’s the safety net around them that needs to be fixed. “No matter how good people are, they suffer from being human and they’re going to screw up,” says Jim Conway, senior vice president at Boston’s Institute for Healthcare Improvement. “We have to put systems in place that stop that error from causing harm.”

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