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The serious problem of preventable harm in medicine

People visit doctors and other medical professionals to improve their health and correct a problem. In most cases, the end result is a healthier patient or at least a clarification of the condition.

In other situations, though, a patient’s condition worsens due to an error in treatment or a missed diagnosis; these errors can lead to cases of medical malpractice.

A common problem

A survey of study data published by BMJ concluded that preventable patient harm is a serious problem in a variety of medical settings. The data showed that preventable harm occurred in 6% of patients introduced to medical settings. Of this preventable harm, 12% resulted in permanent disability or death.

The most common causes of preventable harm included issues related to drugs, invasive medical and surgical procedures and certain therapeutic treatments. Not surprisingly, many instances of harm to patients came from advanced specialties such as intensive care and surgeries.

The general definition of preventable harm describes it as patient harm caused by an identifiable, modifiable action. Adaptation to the faulty process or clear guidelines could play a role in limiting medical procedures that result in harm to the patient.

A limited solution

The World Health Organization frequently considers the role of preventable harm in medical settings. While the problem is much more prevalent in low-income countries, it still remains distressingly common in high-income countries.

Solutions include better investments targeted at minimizing medical errors, which would lead to better patient outcomes. When medical professionals engage with their patients, a 15% reduction in errors can result.  While providers will never achieve total perfection, a well-developed system could lead to fewer errors.