Why Are Medical Errors Still a Leading Cause of Death?

Ultimately, care providers want to be part of programs that help them serve their patients. McGaffigan suspects that organizations that promote transparency and navigate medical errors with the patient or family will better satisfy all parties involved.

“Let’s ensure that we’re putting on programs that we know are meaningful,” McGaffigan says. “For example, putting peer support programs and communication and resolution programs in place. If there’s an event, whether there was harm or not, I should feel comfortable to communicate that to that patient and family member. If we do that and are transparent, timely, and honest with that communication, then patients and the workforce can navigate these events with better outcomes.”

Reducing variation to improve error tracking 

One of the challenges in tracking medical errors is the wide variation among programs. When there is no standardized method of tracking medical errors, each institution must essentially create its own process.

“Unwarranted variation is endemic in health care,” Makary commented in a news release at the time his analysis was published. “Developing consensus protocols that streamline the delivery of medicine and reduce variability can improve quality and lower costs in health care. More research on preventing medical errors from occurring is needed to address the problem.”

In fact, a December 2016 report from the National Quality Forum (NQF) focused on that variation, noting that though the use of quality measurement in healthcare has grown rapidly, this growth has also led to “a proliferation of measures across a diverse range of clinical areas, settings, data sources, and programs” (NQF, 2016).

“Quality measures are essential building blocks in large-scale public- and private-payer efforts to reform the nation’s healthcare system. But slightly different versions of the same measure contribute to waste through reporting burden for providers and make performance comparisons more difficult,” commented Helen Darling, MA, NQF’s interim president and CEO, in a news release issued on the report.

The analysis from Bailit and Associates, commissioned in 2013 by NQF, identifies 1,367 quality measures being used across 48 state and regional programs. Of these measures, more than 800 have a similar focus, with one or more variations in the specifications. The report notes that variation is often due to the availability of data, the complexity of the issue being measured, and communication hurdles.