Hurting hospital patients
Injuries from falls, bedsores and burns all sound like reasons to go to the hospital. But according to a new state Department of Public Health report, those are among the injuries about 300 people suffered in Massachusetts hospitals last year.
As Stephen Smith of The Boston Globe reports, the first annual study of “serious reportable events” looks at medical errors and mishaps at acute care hospitals in Massachusetts. It ain’t pretty:
“More than 300 Massachusetts hospital patients last year suffered perilous falls, got the wrong medication, or had medical instruments left inside them, according to a report released yesterday by state health officials.
The study – the most detailed portrait of its kind in Massachusetts – tallies episodes at every hospital, with the number ranging from none to 25 per institution. Many are deemed preventable.
Falls accounted for nearly two-thirds of the 338 episodes – referred to in the study as “serious reportable events” that hospitals recorded in 2008. One hospital discovered that many of those tumbles happened when unsteady patients tried to make their way to the bathroom without assistance.
The state concluded that 19 deaths could be linked to the events. Hospital errors have been blamed for as many as 90,000 deaths a year in the United States, and health officials nationwide have argued that making those mistakes public will increase accountability.
Since Medicare has stopped paying for medical errors, hospitals in the state will be looking closely at this report. We hope.
What if the DPH called a press conference and no one came?
News this week of the possible closure or massive restructuring of the Globe means you might never hear about, say, the medical errors study. Okay, maybe a blogger will pick it up. But odds are he or she will know less about it than a well-trained reporter paid to keep a clear eye on these things.
The Globe already shut down its Health and Science page. Here’s what the healthcare community would never have read about if there were no Globe:
— Stephen Smith’s reporting on the BU Biolab and the tyranny of conflicting study results.
— Liz Kowalczyk’s coverage of hospitals.
— Judy Forman explaining it all for us. This week – drug ads.
— Gareth Cook winning the Pulitzer Prize for his reporting on stem cells.
— The Partners series digging up a secret deal cut by Partners and Blue Cross that fueled rising health costs and launched “a period of rapid escalation in Massachusetts insurance prices.”
Suddenly, all the people responsible for that great reporting — poof — gone. Out on the street. No more Boston Globe.
While not technically a health story, the threatened closure woke a lot of people up to how much the city needs the paper’s solid reporting. Don’t expect to see Partners signing on, but the blogging CEO of Beth Israel, Paul Levy is leading the e-charge to “Save The Boston Globe:”
“A number of Boston-based bloggers who care about the continued existence of the Globe have banded together in conducting a blog rally. … We view the Globe as an important community resource, and we think that lots of people in the region agree and might have creative ideas that might help in this situation.”
Levy gets good press in the Globe, but give him credit for seeing the paper as a positive force for quality healthcare. Many readers don’t understand enough about their own health and how the system works. With demise of good health reporting, they’ll know even less. And it’s not just Boston. The Association of Health Care Journalists survey released a few weeks ago found that:
“Forty percent of respondents said the number of health reporters has gone down since they started at their news organization.
More than 9 in 10 health journalists said bottom-line pressures in media organizations were hurting the quality of news coverage of health issues.
Nearly 40 percent said it was either very likely or somewhat likely that their position will be eliminated in the next three years.
The Globe will probably not close in 30 days, but it may not continue for too long in its present form. What that means for local health coverage remains unclear.
(Disclosure: A close family member — none of the above — works for the Globe.)
Angell in the Globe
Healthcare is often fodder for the Globe’s letters and op-ed pages. Wednesday’s featured a column by former New England Journal of Medicine editor and pharma critic Marcia Angell, who offered her advice on reforming the federal Food & Drug Administration:
“It is time to restore the FDA to its purpose, which is to protect the public from unsafe food, drugs, and devices, not to accommodate the industries it regulates. The change in leadership is reason for optimism.
Among her recommendations: No consultants for drug companies on FDA advisory panels and more aggressive enforcement of post-marketing study mandates.
Thursday’s op-ed features an insurance industry take on Mass-style reform.
Rate my doctor.com
A coalition of insurers, doctor, hospitals and the state, Massachusetts Health Quality Partners (PDF), has collected and rated five years of treatment data from 150 medical practices. Their searchable database is now up. See how many stars your doc gets for treating diabetes and suggesting colonoscopies:
“Consumers can compare how well medical groups perform in meeting national standards for providing preventive care, helping patients manage chronic conditions such as diabetes, and avoiding the overuse of certain medications and tests.”
For example, doctors in Boston (69 percent) were more likely than doctors nationwide to make sure patients got screened for colon cancer (57 percent). But they were more likely to overuse antibiotics.
You can plug in your own doc’s practice here. Mine did pretty well.
What do we want? Healthcare! When do we want it? Now!
Local union and activist groups met April 2 to launch the Massachusetts chapter of the national Health Care for America Now campaign, The Bay State Banner reports.
A national effort to win support for Obama’s vision of health reform, the group includes some heavy-hitting acronyms, including the AFL-CIO, NAACP, US PIRG and Moveon.org:
“Health Care for America Now (HCAN) is a national grassroots campaign of more than 850 organizations in 46 states representing 30 million people dedicated to winning quality, affordable health care we all can count on in 2009. Our organization and principles are supported by President Obama, Vice President Biden, and more than 190 Members of Congress.
We are building a national movement to win comprehensive health care reform by helping mobilize people in their communities to lobby their U.S. Senators and Representatives in Congress to stand up to the insurance companies and other special interest groups to achieve quality, affordable health care in 2009.
This time around, healthcare advocates face another uphill battle, according to U.S. Rep. Michael E. Capuano, D-Mass.:
“‘It’s going to take a lot of hard work,’ said Capuano, whose congressional district includes most of Boston, as well as Cambridge, Chelsea and Somerville. ‘It appears it will be a tough fight in this economy.'”
Slim Really Fast
An article in the April 1 Newsweek on the FDA crackdown on diet pills cites research from doctors at the Cambridge Health Alliance. They found that some patients taking over-the-counter diet pills were actually taking speed:
“In a recent article in the Journal of General Internal Medicine, Dr. Pieter Cohen of the Cambridge Health Alliance in Massachusetts reviewed two cases of patients taking illegal pills from Brazil containing fenproporex. In the first, a 26-year-woman complained of chest pains, headaches and insomnia. Her urine tested positive for amphetamines; the symptoms went away after she stopped taking the pills. In the second case, a 38-year-old man tested positive for amphetamines at work and was suspended from his job. He also experienced heart problems — which disappeared when he quit the pills.”
More trouble in Springfield
The Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday that the Boston U.S. attorney’s office has subpoenaed financial records of a Bay State Medical Center doctor accused of making up data for at least 21 anesthesiology studies.
There’s more by Tinker Ready over at Boston Health News.