Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Medical Errors Corrode Quality of Healthcare System ; RAND Study Released Wednesday Shows That Nearly Half of All Americans Don't Receive the Care They Should

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Medical Errors Corrode Quality of Healthcare System ; RAND Study Released Wednesday Shows That Nearly Half of All Americans Don't Receive the Care They Should

Article excerpt

The American healthcare system, often touted as a cutting-edge leader in the world, suddenly finds itself mired in serious questions about the ability of its hospitals and doctors to deliver quality care to millions of Americans - even those with health insurance.

In the largest and most comprehensive study of quality care ever done in the United States, the RAND Corporation has found that nearly half of all Americans don't get the recommended healthcare they should - that which leading experts in their field agree is best - when they go to the doctor or hospital.

* Only 45 percent of heart-attack patients received medications that could reduce their risk of death by more than 20 percent.

* Only 39 percent of patients with what doctors diagnosed as pneumonia received the best recommended kind of care.

* People treated for diabetes received only 45 percent of the care they need.

Those are just some of the findings the researchers concluded pose "serious threats to the health of the American public" and could contribute to thousands of preventable deaths each year.

The study by RAND, one of the world's most respected research institutes, comes on the heels of a series of other reports that found critical shortcomings in the American healthcare system. This includes a report by the Institute for Medicine estimating that as many as 44,000 to 98,000 people die in US hospitals each year as the result of medical errors. The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) says more people die from medical errors than from car accidents or breast cancer.

"It's kind of scary. The implications are that everybody is at risk," says Dr. Elizabeth McGlynn, the primary author of the RAND study, which is published in Thursday's New England Journal of Medicine. "It's important for people not to be complacent about the quality of care they receive."

Over the past decade, the issue of improving the quality of healthcare has risen to the top of the agenda for many medical experts. It's become part of the debate about how to keep health costs down and extend coverage to the uninsured.

Around the country, dozens of small experiments are under way aimed at improving care in hospitals and doctors' offices. And the federal government has already launched a successful initiative to reduce medical errors and improve safety in its Veterans Administrations hospitals.

Public complacency

Despite these efforts, the RAND study found that medical errors continue to persist in large numbers across the healthcare system. But the American public has been largely inured to the alarms raised by the experts. Surveys show that, overall, people believe that they get good or excellent care. …

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