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Reduce Medical Errors

WASHINGTON, DC- In response to a report from the National Academy of Sciences' Institute of Medicine showing between 44,000 and 98,000 people die each year because of medical mistakes, the Clinton Administration has created a proposal to reduce medical errors by 50% in five years. The proposal would require Veterans Administration (VA) and Pentagon run hospitals to establish a mandatory error reporting system and to update their current patient safety systems. The VA hospital in Topeka, Kansas, already issues patients plastic wrist bracelets with bar codes to guarantee they are given the correct medicine. If the nurse takes the wrong drug off the medication cart, an alarm sounds. Since the hospital has started the experiment with bar code bracelets, medication errors have dropped 64.5%. The VA is also implementing a "blame-free" system so that errors will be reported without reprimand, then investigated so a solution for prevention of a similar future error can be avoided.

The Institute of Medicine's report claims medication errors totaling more than 7,000 are the most widespread of the problems. These errors can result from incorrectly administered drugs due to illegible handwriting, misunderstanding the verbal issue of a drug's dosage, or not being aware of a drug's warning. Therefore, one of the Clinton Administration's initiatives requests that the FDA develop new standards to reduce drug-mistaken identities due to similar names or packaging and reduce oversights of drug-to-drug interaction. The proposal also requires hospitals that participate in Medicare to have an active error reduction program.

Clinton promised funds in the fiscal year 2001 budget including $33 million for medical error reporting systems at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and $20 million for medical error research and a new Center for Quality Improvement and Patient Safety.

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