Meet regularly to reduce medical errors

September 29, 2006

Medical office staff should meet monthly and discuss medical errors as a team, said Corey Evans, MD, MPH, Director of Medical Education, St. Anthony's Hospital, St. Petersburg, Florida.

Medical office staff should meet monthly and discuss medical errors as a team, said Corey Evans, MD, MPH, Director of Medical Education, St. Anthony's Hospital, St. Petersburg, Florida.

"Safety is a core value in companies that are highly reliable. We should make it one too," he said.

A good place to start is with medications. "This is one of the areas where error can be decreased most," said Dr Evans. Choose specific drugs such as Coumadin, which is a common drug and interacts with many other agents, and evaluate how it is prescribed. Also, get to know the black box warnings of drugs.

According to Dr.Evans, the "single most helpful tool" in reducing medical error is a personal digital assistant with electronic drug prescribing information.

Failure to diagnose cardiac disease and cancer are among the "most common errors in family medicine," he said. "These misdiagnoses are almost always the result of a poor evaluation." Look for exertion-related chest pain complaints to differentiate cardiac disease from other conditions, he emphasized.

Patient education helps reduce medical errors. "Teach patients what angina is and how it feels," and they will be able to tell the difference between it and other pain, he noted.

In general, physicians need to "learn from our mistakes" to improve as professionals, said Dr Evans. Medical practice has changed, and doctors openly discuss errors and seek change for the better. "In the past, medical culture limited the discussion of errors to grand rounds and the atmosphere was punitive," he noted.