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North Texas Universities Partner To Reduce Medical Error, Improve Patient Safety 17

Operating on the wrong patient or on the wrong limb, or giving the wrong medication – those are examples of medical errors. And those errors are the third leading cause of death in the U.S, according to researchers at Johns Hopkins University.  

A new collaboration among several universities in North Texas aims to bring that number down. Dr. Michael Hicks with the UNT Health Science Center talked about the Institute for Patient Safety.

An interview with Dr. Michael Hicks.

Interview Highlights:

What is this new center going to focus on to improve patient safety?

“One of the things we do well is ambulatory care, and that’s important because historically we tend to view healthcare as being the care delivered in a hospital. But the reality is, most healthcare is not delivered in hospital and increasingly, less care is going to be delivered in hospital. And so when we’re going to talk about patient safety, we can’t just focus on the hospital.”

How did you get all these various hospitals in North Texas onboard with this new institute?

“We’re trying to really move the patient safety discussion out of the historical ‘blame and shame arena,’ where we ignore the fact that humans deliver healthcare, and that humans make mistakes and go looking for the person to blame for the bad result that’s occurred, and actually take a step back and say, ‘Look, we’re all patients at some point in our life, and aren’t we all motivated to deliver the best care that we can?’”

What is the most common medical error?

“In reality, there are two broad classifications of medical error. We tend to focus on what we call therapeutic errors, and that’s where we have done something — operating on the wrong limb or giving the wrong medication.  

“There’s another broad classification of medical error that doesn’t get as much attention, but is equally as devastating, and that’s in the realm of diagnostic error. And that’s unfortunately where we as clinicians fail to appropriately diagnose the condition the patient has. “

Human error is a leading contributor to all sorts of mistakes. How do you plan to fight against human nature?

“We’re not going to try to fight human error. The correct approach is to create a system that accounts for the possibility that humans make mistakes, and builds kind of a resiliency into the system, so that when that mistake occurs, some other process in the system will be there to capture, to identify the mistake that was made and mitigate it.”