Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) Friday touted the steps some California hospitals are taking to prevent deadly medical errors, while criticizing those facilities that have not provided her with information on how they are trying to prevent such mistakes.
A new study estimates that between 210,000 and 440,000 people die each year when hospitals make mistakes – like giving the wrong dose of medication, failing to protect against falls, or causing an infection with an improperly inserted central line.
Under the Affordable Care Act, hospitals that do not reduce medical errors will be penalized starting next year. But Boxers says there’s no reason for hospitals to wait.
Earlier this year, the senator asked all 283 acute care hospitals in California to tell her which steps they're taking to prevent deaths caused by medical mistakes. On Friday she said that 149 had responded to her request. Boxer toured Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center for a demonstration of measures it has taken, and to highlight what other institutions have done.
As the senator watched through the window of an empty hospital room with a flashing purple light inside, a UCLA staffer explained how the hospital is using ultraviolet light to disinfect rooms after patients leave.
Boxer noted that a lot of the measures hospitals can take are not complicated.
"For example, many hospitals are preventing pneumonia among patients on ventilators by keeping patients’ heads elevated 30 to 45 degrees," she said. "Now that is a very simple step, isn’t it?"
Other hospitals reported using barcodes to ensure patients get the right medication, or banning nurses from washing their own scrubs.
Some, like Kaiser Permanente, require nurses to wear colored sashes while administering medication. The sashes are a sign to other staff that the nurse should not be interrupted, so as to avoid distractions that might lead to incorrect doses.
Boxer criticized the 134 hospitals that have not yet responded to her request.
"The public has a right to know what you are doing to address the third leading cause of death in America," she said. "And if you don’t respond people shouldn’t go to you. They should go to another hospital."
The senator said her staff will continue pressing those 134 hospitals to provide information on how they’re working to prevent medical errors.
Note: The report by Sen. Boxer's staff on hospitals' efforts to reduce medical errors erroneously states that 63 percent of the hospitals she contacted responded to her request. The correct response rate is 53 percent - 149 out of 283.
The list provided by Sen. Boxer's office of hospitals asked to provide information on how they are preventing medical errors. Where the "Response" column is blank, the senator's office has not received a response.