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I have been a registered nurse, nurse practitioner and most importantly a patient advocate for over 20 years. I have worked in hospitals, homes and as a private consultant, always teaching patients how to speak up for themselves and to make well informed healthcare decisions that are right for them and help them to avoid all types of Medical Errors. The many things I have seen in healthcare led me write "What Did the Doctor Just Say." In it are all the steps every patient needs to take to remain safe in the healthcare system and avoid medical errors. My personal goal is help to save 100,000 people from the horrors of a medical error and I wrote What Did the Doctor Just Say? to help make that happen.

Friday, March 12, 2010

We The People Must Create HealthCare Safety Reform, Reform That Matters to Us!!

Why isn't there a conversation from amongst our political leaders about patient safety and or Safety Reform in the healthcare debates? I can't understand their omission of this topic because safety reform could save our entire healthcare system and our lives? Let me explain.
If the Centers for Disease Control counted medical errors as a cause of death, they would be the fifth leading cause of death in America, taking more lives than motor vehicle accidents, breast cancer, and AIDS combined.
HealthGrades, our nation’s leading reviewer of healthcare quality, found that for the years 2002-04, 1.24 million errors were made while caring for hospitalized Medicare patients in the sixteen categories of error they investigated. Those errors resulted in deaths of 304,702 senior citizens. Of those deaths, 250,246 (82 percent) were potentially preventable. All totaled, those errors cost patients and taxpayers $9.3 billion dollars.
When you read the number “304,702” keep in mind it represents only in-hospital Medicare patients. The numbers do not include medical errors involving anyone under age 65, nor do they include medical errors that occur in doctors’ offices, pharmacies, rehabilitation, or long-term care facilities. No one knows how many medical errors or deaths from errors there really are. The authors of the HealthGrades study tell us that the numbers in their report “represent only the tip of the medical-errors iceberg.”
No matter what the actual numbers are, they do not begin to convey the real meaning embedded within them. Numbers cannot convey the depth of a patients’ distress when he realizes he has lost the ability to work and will soon be bankrupt due to medical costs. How can numbers convey the sadness one feels when a marriage ends under the strain of a prolonged illness? And numbers cannot begin to express the anger, depression, and resentment felt when a person’s life is ruined by a healthcare system they once trusted. The numbers are big and they are bad and yet they do not begin to tell the whole story of medical error.
Sadly, for many of you reading this, medical error is not just something you’ve heard about. In fact, statistically, each of us has a two in five-or a 40 percent-chance of being harmed by a medical error each time we enter the healthcare system, so there is a very high likelihood that you or someone you know has been harmed by a medical error. If you developed an infection while in the hospital, were misdiagnosed and mistreated or you experienced a medication or medical record and billing error. At any point in the healthcare delivery system anyone of us could fall victim to a medical error and these errors are destroying lives and further draining our nations economy, thus effecting each and everyone of us.
Yet we hear nothing in the healthcare reform bill about reducing medical errors and the harm done to patients. We hear nothing about the medical disability, social security and other social service costs associated with these errors that even further drain on our economy and our entire society, families, caregivers and business owners. Sadly we do hear that bankruptcies brought about by healthcare cost are the number one cause of bankruptcy in the United States.
So again I ask why is there no conversation about safety reform in the current debates. I don't know the answer to that question (although I have my ideas). What I do know is that in order to improve the care you receive and decrease your chances of being hurt or harmed by a medical error and to help our healthcare system survive it is imperative that each of learns how to partner with our healthcare providers and learn how to make well informed healthcare decisions that are right for us and our loved ones and that we partner with our providers to decrease their chances of giving us a misdiagnosis, the wrong medication, wrong treatments and even wrong surgeries.
Your Insurance Carrier May Not Cover the Damages
Not only could you or your loved ones fall victim to a medical error, your insurance company may not pay for the care you need because of your injuries. As of October 2008, in an attempt to force hospitals to improve care and to save money, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) will no longer reimburse hospitals for a group of errors called “never events.”
They are called "never events" because it is believed these events should not and would not happen if doctors and hospitals followed established protocols designed to prevent them. Because of these beliefs the CMS no longer pays for care required after a patient is injured by a eight types of “never events.”
Eight of the 28 types of errors classified as never events are responsible for the spending of approximately $22 billion Medicare dollars each year, and those eight types of errors are the first to be excluded from payment. This group of errors includes: infections from catheters (IV and Foley catheters); pressure ulcers (bedsores); air embolisms; being given the wrong type of blood; repeat surgeries needed to remove objects left inside the patient following surgery; falls; injury or death from medications, and the post operative deaths of low risk surgical patients.
Non-payment for the care required after a never event could have devastating effects on both patients and hospitals. If, for example, you develop a pressure ulcer (a bedsore), the treatment of that ulcer may require bandages, packing, antibiotics, creams, and surgery, easily costing hundreds of dollars per day. While you are in the hospital, the hospital is required to absorb the cost of caring for your injury. Once you are discharged from the hospital you may be responsible for the costs. This will depend upon the arrangement your hospital has with Medicare or your private insurance carrier ~ recently Blue Cross/Blue Shield, Aetna, and Cigna have announced plans to restructure their policies to deny payment of never events as well.
When you consider that Medicare alone spends up to $22 billion dollars annually to treat these eight never events, you can well imagine that thousands of patients will not be able to afford the care they need after being injured by a never event without help from their insurance carriers.
We May All Have Less Access to Healthcare Even With Insurance
Before the instatement of the never rules, most patients had no idea that the development of a bedsore while in the hospital could be considered negligence or that they may be entitled to compensation for their pain and suffering. As a part of the never event regulations, doctors are required to inform patients they have fallen victim to a never event.
With more patients being made aware they have been injured by the medical system, the number of lawsuits could skyrocket, leading to increasing malpractice rates, which some doctors and hospitals will not be able to pay. The consequences of this could be that that we’ll have less access to care as doctors leave their practices and hospitals close under the financial burden of decreased reimbursements and ever increasing malpractice premiums. In fact this is already happening in some states and may become worse as more people enter the system.
With more hospitals closing, remaining emergency rooms will be overcrowded. There are already long waits to get into surviving hospitals, where workers are exhausted from dealing with high volumes of patients.
While the CMS may be well intentioned, the consequences of refusing to pay for never events could be tough on all of us. Fewer doctors and massive hospital closures present a very serious problem and that problem is ~ we don’t have anywhere else to go.
Now that we are aware of some of the problems surrounding medical errors and we know that we are all at risk of falling victim to such an error, each of us who cares about our healthcare and our safety must ask ourselves a question, and that question is: “What can I do to protect myself and my loved ones from a medical error and help to protect the only medical system we have from collapsing.
It is up to each of us who enters the healthcare system to Take Charge of our Health and Safety and to help create a movement of healthcare safety reform that is patient driven and patient centered. If enough patients and caregivers use the the patient empowerment techniques I teach in What Did the Doctor Just Say? we the people could create a Patient Safety Reform Movement and together we could help save over 100,000 people from the horrors of a medical error.
In my next post I will share the essential strategies that have been proven to prevent medical errors with you. However if you are concerned right now about your safety or the safety of someone you have to make healthcare decisions for right now you can get your copy of What Did the Doctor Just Say: How to Understand What Your Doctor Is Saying and Prevent a Medical Error From Happening to You and Your Loved Ones
Right Now and learn what you can do to protect your and loved ones health and safety
As always, I hope I helped someone.

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