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Will Obama Administration Initiative Cut Down on Medical Malpractice?

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Washington, DCHealth advocates are hoping that a new initiative by the Obama Administration will help cut down on the kinds of medical malpractice gaffes that cost an 18-month-old child her life. Josie King died in 2001 after being administered the wrong medication at a hospital where she was being treated for burns.

Errors in the delivery and administration of health services kill thousands of Americans every year, according to a report appearing April 13 in the Los Angeles Times. A recent study published in the journal Health Affairs noted that one in three hospital patients suffered an adverse event, including the administration of the wrong medication, the acquisition of an infection or receiving the wrong surgical procedure.

Some famous malpractice cases have included the amputation of the wrong leg. It's rare, but it happens.

The just-announced initiative appears to cost about $1 billion dollars, but the goal is to reduce the number of harmful conditions identified as being preventable by as much as 40 percent. The program also seeks to cut hospital readmissions by 20 percent.

"Those are big goals," said Dr. Don Berwick, a leading national advocate for patient safety who oversees the federal Medicare and Medicaid programs. "But the results for patients and families will be dramatic—millions of people…suffering less, tens of thousands of deaths averted, and anguish and worry decreased beyond measure."

An error may be all in a day's work for a hospital employee. However, when a medication mix-up occurs or the wrong surgical procedure is performed, the results can be life changing or even life taking for the patient and often results in medical malpractice lawsuits.

Most will remember actor Dennis Quaid, testifying before Congress last year after his infant children were given adult-strength heparin in error. The twin newborns barely survived.

The effort will be funded through the Obama Health Care Initiative—first through the distribution of $500 million in grants that will fund partnerships between community-based organizations and hospitals to fashion programs targeting patients upon their discharge.

An equal amount—$500 million—is to be spent in the testing of models designed to reduce nine types of medical errors ranging from surgical site infections to complications from childbirth.

Sorrel King hopes that such an initiative would prevent the kind of medical error that resulted in the death of her daughter, Josie. "We can't keep going at the pace we are going," she said in a statement, in reference to the status quo before the initiative was announced.

It is hoped that the just-announced effort will improve the overall health of Americans and reduce medical errors—and medical malpractice—without cutting services.


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