IOM releases report on medical errors

Pharmaceutical Representative

A new report on medical errors from the National Institutes of Medicine of the National Academies calls for changes throughout the healthcare system including mandatory reporting requirements. The report, titled "To Err is Human: Building a Safer Health System," lays out a comprehensive strategy for government, industry, consumers and healthcare providers to reduce medical errors.

A new report on medical errors from the National Institutes of Medicine of the National Academies calls for changes throughout the healthcare system including mandatory reporting requirements. The report, titled "To Err is Human: Building a Safer Health System," lays out a comprehensive strategy for government, industry, consumers and healthcare providers to reduce medical errors.

According to the IOM, medical errors kill between 44,000 and 98,000 people in U.S. hospitals per year, more than highway accidents, breast cancer or AIDS. Included in those numbers are the nearly 7,000 deaths that occur annually due to medication errors.

"These stunningly high medical errors – resulting in deaths, permanent disability and unnecessary suffering – are simply unacceptable in a medical system that promises first to 'do no harm,'" said William Richardson, chair of the committee that wrote the report.

The committee has set as a minimum goal a 50% reduction in errors over the next five years. "We believe that with adequate leadership, attention and resources, improvements can be made," said Richardson.

To achieve a better safety record, the committee has recommended a plan that includes having Congress establish a center for patient safety that would set national safety goals, track progress in meeting them and invest in research to learn more about preventing mistakes. The committee has also asked that the plan be evaluated after five years to assess its progress in making the health system safer.

Reactions to the report

Almost immediately following the report's release, reactions were heard from several government and medical organizations. President Clinton pledged the support of his administration (see sidebar) and the National Patient Safety Foundation at the American Medical Association praised the report as providing "additional momentum and focus."

"The findings of this report are very important to the issue of improving patient safety and working toward the goal of fail-safe care processes," said Henri Manasse, chair of the NPSF board of directors. "The IOM information is very supportive of earlier learning and should help raise awareness and establish patient safety as a national priority."

Continued Nancy Dickey, past chair of the NPSF board of directors: "In general, medicine is very safe, but medicine is also very complex and not without risk. Any error that harms patient safety is one error too many." PR