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Nursing Malpractice Issues

All healthcare providers have a duty of care that they are required to provide patients with. As the number of nursing staff continues to be shorthanded nationwide, more nursing malpractice cases have been cropping up. Although there are many critics opposed to the ability to bring medical/ nursing malpractice cases without capping jury awards, reports continue to indicate hospitals in the U.S. are not keeping patients safe. Every year, more people die because of medical mistakes than people from motor vehicle accidents, breast cancer or AIDS.

Nursing malpractice issues often involve things like improper medication, but reports of deadly and shockingly malpractice continues to be made. When a 1999 report was released that has been classified as one of the most influential reports in medical history, "To Err is Human," it called for a drastic reduction in medical mistakes after finding accidental overdoses, infections and other caregiver errors are responsible for up to 98,000 U.S. deaths annually.

After the authors declared, "it would be irresponsible to expect anything less than a 50 percent reduction in errors over five years," when looking at patient safety in 2004, improvements are not impressive. The landmark report from 1999 said of the 98,000 deaths each years caused by medical errors, about 7,000 a year are from drug errors in hospitals.

In Boston, a tragic medical and nursing malpractice mistake in 1994 caused the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute to completely reform its hospital, and ten years later, it has become one of the most safety conscious hospitals in America. In 1994, medical staff had accidentally prescribed four times the intended dose of breast cancer medication to two women, and when not one of the 25 medical staff involved noticed until weeks later, it left one patient dead and another with irreversible heart damage.

Now, the Dana-Farber nurses take a new set of precautions with the aid of computerized identification aimed to prevent drug errors, and in ten years, the hospital has had no medication errors that caused permanent injury to outpatients. Nurses play an integral role in hospital care, and failing to foresee what could go wrong and preventing it from happening, as well as failing to know what the patient is at risk for in order to properly monitor them, can contribute to nursing malpractice issues. With the nursing profession having staffing shortages, the increase in nursing malpractice issues in recent years may be partially attributed to the burdensome work load now places on fewer nurses.

A simple task like washing hands, as a result, may seem like a minor overstep but can result in infections that can be deadly. In a Journal of the American Medical Association article, patients in hospitals with nurses that had heavier workloads because of shortages had a 31 percent higher risk of dying, and the majority of serious errors that continue to be reported in recent years have been in part attributed to understaffed nursing departments. The nursing malpractice issues are just one area of patient safety that must be immediately addressed if healthcare is going to effectively keep patients alive.

Dana-Farber, while spending considerable time, efforts and money on reducing medical/ hospital malpractice issues over the last ten years, which has resulted in a considerably safer hospital, is a rare example of what the 6,000 hospitals in the U.S. are willing to invest. According to patient safety advocates, medical/ nursing malpractice medication errors lacks urgency at many hospitals, especially since the majority of them have no way of knowing if they are making fewer mistakes than they were a decade ago.

Dr. Lucian Leape of the Harvard School of Public Health and co-author of "To Err is Human" says he is encouraged that more doctors, nurses and hospital administrators are at least talking about preventing mistakes that contribute to medical/ nursing malpractice issues, since up until recently errors were not allowed to be acknowledged. Patient advocates think hospital officials are talking about the importance of patient safety but doing too little to actually achieve it.

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