Consumers raise the bar on expectations of error-free healthcare

Multiple cases of medical errors hit the headlines in recent months. Collectively, these headlines raise an interesting point. Patients and the public at large have changed expectations about the quality of healthcare. Consumers increasingly expect medical services to be error-free. When news surfaces that a provider committed a pattern of medical errors over an extended period of time, it becomes a major news story.

For example, last month, the Associated Press reported that thousands of patients at a Veterans Administration clinic in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, may have been exposed to the infectious bodily fluids of other patients when they had colonoscopies in recent years. At the Murfreesboro VA clinic, on December 1, it was discovered that a valve on equipment used in the colonoscopies was wrongly connected. That mistake was traced back to April 23, 2003! All patients who had a colonoscopy between April 23, 2003 and December 1, 2008 have been offered laboratory testing and free medical care.

Similarly, the Veterans Administration also disclosed that 1,800 veterans may have been exposed to infection at the eye, ear, and nose clinic at the VA medical center in Augusta, Georgia. VA Officials admitted that patients “may have been exposed to infection because the instrument used in the procedure was improperly disinfected.

Of course, Dark Daily subscribers and readers know about the widely-reported systemic errors in Vitamin D testing at Quest Diagnostics Incorporated (NYSE:DGX). Last fall, it notified thousands of physicians and tens of thousands of patients that it had reported “inaccurate” lab test results for Vitamin 25(OH) D and offered these patients a free retest. Quest Diagnostics acknowledge that the problems started early in 2007 and extended into 2008. The inaccurate lab test results were related to its decision to switch away from immunoassay methods for Vitamin 25(OH) D testing and create a home brew assay using liquid chromatography-tandem mass spectrometry.

Medical errors are also making the national news cycle in Canada. Last November, Manitoba’s largest health authority launched an investigation after administrators feared that 17 patients may have been exposed to blood-borne infections while having their blood-sugar levels tested. Health officials believed a nurse at a clinic in Winnipeg had reused a blood sampling needle improperly for over a year. It was reported that the nurse used the finger-stick blood sampling device on patients at the Centre de Sante Sainte-Boniface between May 2007 and October 2008. While the risk of infection was deemed to be extremely low, authorities recommended patients get tested for HIV and hepatitis B and C.

Syringe re-use was also an issue in medical errors reported in Alberta. In this case, it was announced that the care of more than 1,000 patients may have been compromised after syringes were reused at a health clinic located in High Prairie. Affected patients were offered testing for HIV and hepatitis.

A similar case in Saskatchewan also made national news. Health officials in that province were investigating the reuse of single-use syringes by health providers in Lloydminster, Prince Albert, Weyburn, Swift Current, and Yorkton. These cases did not involve blood collection. Rather, it was determined that “in all cases, the needle and syringe were used to inject medication into an intravenous bag, not directly into the patients’ bodies.”

All of these news reports about medical errors appeared between November and February. In most cases, they represent examples of healthcare professionals using technology incorrectly-and in ways that can negatively affect the patient. Collectively, this selection of national news stories about medical errors demonstrates how consumers are raising the quality bar on healthcare providers.

At the same time, these news stories are a timely reminder to clinical laboratories and pathology group practices. As consumers raise the bar on their expectation of provider quality, laboratories must respond by using management methods of continuous improvement to reduce and eliminate any and all sources of errors and defects in their work flow, analytical activities, and customer service execution.

Related Articles:

“VA clinic warns of possible contaminant exposure”

“Tennessee: Veterans warned of infection risk at clinic”

“Reuse of blood-sampling device may have exposed 17 people in Manitoba to infection”