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Hospital negligence rate higher among chronically ill children

Since a 1999 report by the Institute of Medicine found that fatal medical errors affect nearly 98,000 people each year, a number of organizations have dedicated their efforts to promoting and understanding hospital patient safety in Oregon and across the country.

One such organization is the federally-funded Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ). It has been funding various projects aimed at improving hospital patients' safety, such as efforts to prevent infections, which is one of the most common complications resulting from hospital stays.

A recent study, however, revealed some disturbing results. Using databases and hospital discharge records, researchers compared the treatment of hospitalized children with chronic health problems -- such as asthma, a digestive disorder, diabetes or cancer -- with the hospital stays of otherwise healthy children. They found that medical errors happened much more frequently to the kids with chronic disorders. The types of hospital negligence included a host of preventable complications, such as preventable errors unique to certain procedures, infections following surgery, or even bedsores.

Whereas only 1.3 percent of hospitalized kids with no chronic health problems were affected by a medical error, that percentage rose to over 5 percent among chronically ill children with hospital stays. The medical error risk also increased among children with multiple chronic ailments. Among kids with one chronic illness, the error rate was around 3 percent. For kids with two or more chronic conditions, however, the rate reached almost 7 percent.

Researchers believe there might be several explanations for the higher incidence of medical errors among hospitalized chronically ill children. Chronically ill children might have longer visits and more complicated health issues, on average, compared to other hospitalized children. That, in turn, requires more complicated care.

However, poor teamwork may be another cause for the higher error rate. Chronically ill kids often require specialists in several different departments, and researchers suspect that communication among the different providers might be fragmented. When communication among different health care providers is poor, the risk of medical interactions or complications might be greater. To help reduce that error rate, researchers advise appointing a single professional, such as a pediatrician, to oversee and coordinate the care components provided to chronically ill children.

Source: Reuters, "More hospital errors when kids have chronic ills," Amy Norton, Sept. 11, 2012

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