Reuters, Yahoo Online December 7, 1999 1:27pm ET Top Stories Headlines

Original Source

Clinton Aims to Cut Deadly Errors

By Deborah Charles

President Clinton announces
initiative to cut medical mistakesWASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Clinton on Tuesday ordered the government to take steps to prevent medical errors that kill tens of thousands of Americans a year.

One week after a study showed up to 98,000 people die every year due to medical errors, Clinton said the federal government must "lead by example." He ordered plans providing health care for federal employees to implement safety standards and the latest error reduction techniques.

He also gave a federal government task force 60 days to produce recommendations on how to prevent medical errors and improve health care quality and patient safety.

The Institute of Medicine report last week said errors by U.S. doctors, pharmacists and other health care providers cause the deaths of between 44,000 and 98,000 people every year. Up to 7,000 of those were due to mistakes in prescribing or dispensing the wrong drugs.

The cost of all the errors is up to $29 billion in lost income, disability and health care costs.

"But this is about far more (than) dollars or statistics, it's about the toll that such errors take on people's lives and on their faith in our health care system,'' Clinton said in the Rose Garden after meeting health care representatives.

"The Institute of Medicine's report makes clear a systematic approach to reducing medical errors gives us the best chance for success,'' he said.

"I am committed to working with all these people in partnership to do our part to save lives in needless medical errors and make the best health care system in the world even better in the next century."

On Monday Clinton reauthorized the Agency for Health Care Quality and Research and earmarked $25 million for research to improve health care quality and prevent medical errors.

He said he wanted quality and patient safety initiatives in next year's budget. "I want next year's budget to provide the largest investment to eliminate medical errors, improve quality and enhance patient safety we've ever offered."

Congress is also working to solve the problem.

Sen. Edward Kennedy, a Massachusetts Democrat, told reporters this week he plans on introducing legislation when Congress reconvenes early next year to help design a national system to reduce medical errors.

Saying he was "amazed and enormously distressed" by the Institute of Medicine findings, Kennedy said he had sounded out some potential Republican allies and believed that ``we can have a strong bipartisan bill.

His bill would basically follow Institute of Medicine recommendations and create a National Center for Patient Safety to set national safety goals and work with licensing bodies and health organizations to improve medical safety.

Kennedy said his legislation would also include both some mandatory and some voluntary reporting requirements of errors. Hospitals and other health organizations would be required to report to state governments any medical errors that cause serious injury or death. About one-third of the states already have such rules.

It would also encourage health organizations to share experiences and best practices.

In an effort to minimize prescription errors, some pharmacists are lobbying to set up an automatic prescription system which could drastically reduce human errors.

Larry Hruska, a pharmacist and senior vice president of operations for -- an online pharmacy -- said the technology is already available for an electronic prescription pad which could cut back on errors.

"Hopefully, with President Clinton's speech today it will increase awareness and physicians will be more motivated to use technology," he said in an interview.

Earlier Stories