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Study: Chronically-ill children face higher rate of medical errors

You might remember a post we wrote earlier this month about a study that determined the most vulnerable patients in a hospital — those in the ICU — are more at risk of life-threatening medical misdiagnoses than patients in other areas of the hospital.

The lead author of the study explained that symptoms of a heart attack or other severe threats were often missed as hospital staff focused on other, more complex, symptoms being experienced by the ICU patients. As a result, as many as 40,500 ICU patients die each year because of missed diagnoses.

Similarly, another study that was recently published in the journal Pediatrics has determined that hospitalized children with a chronic health condition are at a higher risk of being affected by a medical error than hospitalized children without a chronic condition.

Researchers used a government database to determine that 44 percent of children hospitalized in the 38 U.S. states in 2006 had at least one chronic health problem, including asthma, a digestive disorder, diabetes or cancer. Just over 5 percent of these children were affected by a medical error, while just 1.3 percent of children without a chronic were affected by a medical error.

However, in this study, researchers were not able to distinguish whether the medical error caused harm to the child patients. The researchers also concluded that children with chronic health problems likely face a greater risk of medical error because they spend significantly more time being hospitalized.

Even so, the researchers said they hope the study puts parents, doctors and hospital staff on notice that children with chronic health problems face a greater risk of medical errors. To help prevent these errors, the researchers advise parents to always be asking questions to make sure that all attending physicians and staff are on the same page.

Hopefully, hospitals take action to prevent medical errors affecting both chronically-ill children and adult patients in the ICU. Not only will it mean saving lives, it will also mean avoiding medical malpractice lawsuits.

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