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How the healthcare system may cause harm – Part X

When Kew Gardens residents hear of stories regarding medical errors, their first assumption may be that these mistakes only occur in hospitals, given that a majority of the data detailing them comes from such facilities. However, information shared by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows the number of people visiting clinics to be exponentially higher than those seeking care at hospitals. In 2011, the CDC reported that 125.7 million Americans visited hospitals for outpatient treatment. By way of comparison, the same agency showed that 928.6 million people were seen in clinics in the U.S. in 2012.

With such a higher patient volume, one might assume that clinics produce a greater number of medical mistakes. Yet a lack of information coming from clinics makes it difficult to show this to be the case. Information shared by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality confirms that very little research into errors in the primary care or clinic setting has been conducted. One might argue that since most of the cases seen in clinics are likely to involve only minor problems, the effects of any errors that primary care providers may make would be insignificant. Still, the results of 1997 study shared by the AHRQ detailing care at a series of U.S. clinics shows that 83 percent of the errors observed were preventable.

The AHRQ reports the most common mistakes seen in clinics to be:

  •          Prescription errors
  •          Delays in review lab results
  •          Medical record filing errors
  •          Medication dispensing errors
  •          Abnormal lab result misinterpretations

By being more involved in their own care, clinic patients may be able to help avoid such errors. This should be easier to do in a clinic setting, given that doctors should have more time to dedicate to patients than they may in hospitals. 

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