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Study: Medical Errors in NC Indicative of Nationwide Problem

December 10, 2010

RALEIGH, N.C. - It's not getting any better when it comes to reducing the rate of medical errors occurring in North Carolina, according to a recent study published in the "New England Journal of Medicine." As a patient in the Tarheel State, you have a 1-in-5 chance of being harmed by a medical mistake, researchers found.

Laurie Sanders, executive director of the North Carolina Coalition for Patient Safety, suspects that statistic could be just the tip of the iceberg. Among her criticisms, she says a research method that focused on only the original charts of the 2,300 patients studied doesn't tell the whole story.

"I've read many charts where there have been medical errors, death, injury - and when you go back to the original chart, you cannot even tell that anything went wrong."

North Carolina was selected for the study because the state enacted patient safety changes after a 1999 study. Among the most common preventable errors found were bleeding during an operation, breathing troubles and infections.

Sanders became a patient advocate after her son died as a result of a medical error when he was 5 years old. She says she's disappointed there has been no improvement in the number of medical errors, according to this recent research.

"Can you imagine any other industry being given 10 years to improve their safety record and failing to do so and not having consequences? They've been given all these resources and it simply isn't working."

In addition to the desire to reduce medical errors, proponents for change, like Sanders, emphasize the additional health care cost burden to the system when mistakes are made.

Stephanie Carroll Carson, Public News Service - NC