Hippocrates may have told doctors to "First, do no harm" more than 2,000 years ago, but it's taken almost that long for modern medicine to "begin approaching the problem of medical mistakes as a system and create a concerted movement," says Dr. Robert Wachter, Associate Chairman of the Department of Medicine at UC San Francisco.
In a report published Tuesday intended to move American health care closer to a safer system, Wachter and his colleagues identified the top ten strategies that doctors and nurses should embrace to help protect patients from unintended harm.
The goal is to move doctors, hospitals and nurses toward a recognition that even the most dedicated doctors and nurses can make mistakes, so health care needs systems that help catch errors before patients are harmed.
Health care providers can read the complete list of strategies here, but for the casual reader, they include items such as:
- Hand washing
- Interventions to reduce bedsores
- Preoperative checklists and anesthesia checklists to prevent harm during and after operations
If you're thinking hand washing and check lists might sound a little basic, Wachter agrees. "It doesn’t sound like rocket science and it’s not. But if until 12 years ago, the view of a doctor, including me, was the way we deliver safe care is ‘I am perfect. I never screw up,’ then you never thought that way. You never thought about the importance of a ... checklist because you just say, 'I have to be infallible and if I do blow it, I have to try harder. I have to be careful.'"
That "doctor infallibility" changed a dozen years ago when "To Err is Human," a major report from the Institute of Medicine detailed that medical mistakes were killing between 44,000 and 98,000 Americans every year -- the equivalent of a major plane crash every day.