Doctors need more safety

Saturday, 04 September, 2004

While complacency within the medical profession was rapidly becoming an incident of the past, medical practitioners still needed help in ensuring they were subject to the same safety checks and balances as other professions, a leading heart surgeon said.

"We medical practitioners need all the help we can get from experts in other industries who have shown how to make safety and quality nothing more nor less than core business," said Professor Clifford Hughes, AO, Head of Department of Cardiothoracic Surgery, Royal Prince Alfred Hospital in Sydney.

Professor Hughes said that previously some practitioners had suffered from complacency to the degree where they had become dangerous. He also said that until recent times, error in medicine was far more frequent than could have possibly been expected or predicted. "The Pandora's Box was opened in 2000 when the Institute of Medicine in the US published a report that suggested that between 2.9 and 3.7% of hospital admissions were associated with an adverse event while the patient was undergoing hospital treatment and between 6.6 and 13.5% of these resulted in death," Professor Hughes said.

In 1995, an Australian study had shown that as high as 16.6% of hospital admissions throughout the country were associated with adverse event with more than half having a high preventability score. "While 46% resulted in a temporary disability, 5% resulted in death," Professor Hughes said. In addition to cultural factors, Professor Hughes cited a number of other causes which could still lead to medical errors, including device failure, long hours, and teaching. "Medical education has ignored procedural skill teaching resources such as the use of simulators," Professor Hughes said.

Professor Hughes also referred to solo practices as adding to the problem. "We would not embark on a plane when only one pilot was responsible for the entire conduct of the plane, day in, day out. Why should medicine, particularly in the procedure specialties, be any different?" he queried.

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