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Patients end up paying the real price for medical errors

Shireesh Sahai | Updated on December 21, 2019 Published on December 21, 2019

Every patient deserves safe and effective treatment. What patients do not deserve is medical errors at any point in the healthcare delivery continuum.

But all too often, they are at the receiving end of serious, harmful but preventable medical misjudgments. These occur when a diagnosis is incorrect, when drugs prescribed are wrong, when the treatment progress is not effectively monitored and when adverse effects of medication are not tracked. As unbelievable as this sounds, it happens all too frequently. At the root of it often is the issue of variability of care, arising from the lack of evidence-based clinical standards across the continuum of care.

Tapping tech tools

Today, we have a strong ally in technology, which we are just beginning to use effectively, to enable healthcare delivery in India follow treatment protocols that are evidence-based. Efficient use of these technologies is how we can reduce the variability of care and minimise medical mistakes. Many studies have shown that the use of technology is a “key first step” to reduce clinical variation, and in doing so, reduce the risk of medical errors.

Variability of care manifests in two forms: operational variability resulting from incorrect actions by doctors, nurses, pharmacists and others in the care chain; and knowledge variability caused by lack of access to new research that medical professionals need to offer patients the most informed treatment solutions.

Credible, evidence-based Clinical Decision Support Systems (CDSS) offer the highest chance to standardise healthcare delivery. Research has proven that advanced CDSS improve patient care and hospital performance. Such systems use original content derived from the latest medical research to offer graded recommendations to clinicians on the next steps in treatment, alert providers to information they may not have seen, and catch potential problems, such as dangerous drug interactions.

By embedding these tools throughout the health system, medical staff can combine their own clinical experience with the most updated evidence-based guidelines of care. This combination leads to best practice adherence, dramatically reduces the chance of medical errors at the point of care and also reduces cost.

India records an alarming 5.2 million medical errors every year and experts agree that we could greatly benefit from advanced knowledge-based support systems in regular clinical practice. CDSS can help improve the flow of information between multiple caregivers — doctors, nurses, and paramedical staff — reducing the chance of medical errors. It can enhance clinical decisions of healthcare providers by providing reliable health information in a few seconds whenever needed, at the click of a button.

Today, most discussions on healthcare in India centre on issues of access and affordability. These are undoubtedly legitimate and critical discussions but in my view patient safety is equally paramount. I believe it is time we placed greater emphasis on standardised, high-quality delivery at all points of care, so that through the use of health technology tools already available to us, patients are protected against human errors.

 

The writer is Chief Executive Officer with Wolters Kluwer India. Views are personal

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Published on December 21, 2019
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