1999’s ‘To Err Is Human’ Still an Opportunity for Labs

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NOT ONLY DID THE 1999 PUBLICATION OF ‘TO ERR IS HUMAN” trigger a wave of national news coverage about patient harm in hospitals, it also launched this nation’s healthcare system on a multi-decade journey to boost the quality of care, reduce medical errors, and increase the transparency of both patient outcomes and prices. 

“To Err Is Human” was published by the Institute of Medicine (IOM) and caught the public attention with its estimate that between 44,000 and 98,000 Americans died annually in hospitals due to medical errors. In 2001, the IOM published “Crossing the Quality Chasm: A New Health System for the 21st Century” and made a compelling case that the healthcare system needed to implement major reforms. At that time, The Dark Report provided valuable intelligence about these developments. (See TDR, “Provider Performance Ranking Now Hitting Healthcare System,” Jan. 28, 2002.) 

I was reminded of these events last month when the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) issued its latest report to Congress, titled, “Adverse Events in Hospitals: A Quarter of Medicare Patients Experienced Harm in October 2018,” in which it concluded that “one in four hospitalized Medicare patients experienced harm during October 2018.” Viewed with the perspective of the events above that happened 23 years ago, the fact that the OIG can document a rate of harm in hospitals today that affects 25% of Medicare patients is an important finding. Even more significant, this rate of harm to patients is consistent with the 17 annual reports the OIG has issued to Congress since 2008. On pages 10-15, you will find useful background on these developments. 

As of today, it can be asserted that documented rates of harm to Medicare patients in hospitals are evidence that there is still the need for substantial improvement in the care of patients, whether they are treated in hospitals or ambulatory settings. This is an opportunity for clinical laboratories and anatomic pathology groups. Labs are perfectly positioned to identify patients who are undiagnosed, who have care gaps, or who may have challenging symptoms and where their providers may benefit from timely guidance on the appropriate lab tests. These are all opportunities for clinical labs to add value, support the goals of “Crossing the Quality Chasm,” and be rewarded for these contributions—which also could generate a welcome source of new revenue.

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